ATLANTA (AP) — Time and time again, the Houston Astros clogged the bases.
So much traffic early, it looked like the notorious congestion on the Downtown Connecter that drives Atlanta commuters crazy.
Only for the Astros, hardly anyone ever got home.
“We really had them on the ropes,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve all had their chances Saturday night. But a big hit once again eluded the Astros and they fell to Atlanta 3-2 in Game 4 of the World Series, leaving them one loss from elimination.
Baker even tried a novel approach with his lineup. He put good-hitting pitcher Zack Greinke in the eighth spot, ahead of catcher Martín Maldonado — the only other time in World Series play that a pitcher didn’t bat ninth was in 1918, with a Red Sox lefty named Babe Ruth.
Greinke came through with a single, in fact.
But in the end, it didn’t matter. Bases loaded, runners at the corners, second and third — no matter the situation, the result didn’t change.
The team that led the majors in hitting this season, a club packed with All-Stars and the two top hitters in the AL batting race, couldn’t come through in the clutch.
Houston finished 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, most of that in the first few innings, wound up stranding 11 and is hitting a paltry .206 overall this week.
“They say good pitching beats good hitting, and then when you don’t hit, they say what’s wrong?” Baker said. “And they’ve been pitching good against us. They’ve been pitching great against us.”
Aside from a 7-2 romp in Game 2, the Astros have totaled four runs in their three losses.
And just like that, the solidly favored Astros can get knocked out in Game 5 on Sunday night.
“We’re trying hard as hitters. We’ve got a good lineup, we know, but sometimes you have to give credit to the other team as well,” Altuve said.
Houston could have a different look in Game 5. Hitless in five at-bats, Bregman is 1 for 14 in the Series and might be moved out of the third spot.
“Yeah, I thought about it. I’ll let you know tomorrow when I make the lineup out,” Baker said.
Blanked 2-0 the previous night, Altuve and the Astros came out swinging.
Altuve led off with an infield single on the first pitch of the game, and the Astros then loaded the bases with one out against rookie Dylan Lee. Correa had his chance against reliever Kyle Wright but could only manage a soft RBI grounder, and Kyle Tucker struck out.
The Astros failed to cash in when they had two on and one out in the second, with third baseman Austin Riley making a diving catch on Altuve’s smash down the line. Greinke grounded out with the bases loaded to end the third.
Altuve homered in the fourth for a 2-0 lead. But by the time pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez lifted a routine fly with runners on the corners to end the fifth, it was clear the missed chances could easily come back to haunt them on Halloween eve.
“They have good pitchers, and they’ve been executing every pitch. So they’re not giving us a lot of pitches to hit,” Altuve said.