Defeat from the jaws of victory! The Astros melt down, the Royals force Game 5

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Someplace in the bowels of Minute Maid Park there is a clubhouse attendant who knows whether or not the carts full of champagne and beer were already wheeled into the Astros’ clubhouse. Whether or not the plastic was taped above the Astros’ lockers. He’s likely been sworn to secrecy — there’s a code of discretion to which these professionals ascribe — but he knows.

And who would’ve blamed him? The Astros were up by four runs and were only six outs away from advancing to the ALCS. They were on their way there thanks to a hero-making turn from Carlos Correa, who hit his second homer of the day in the bottom of the seventh. It was a two-run shot, followed immediately by Colby Rasmus‘ solo homer to make it 6-2. Between that and the deflating, inning-ending replay review in the top half of the inning, the Royals could’ve pretty easily packed it in.

But they didn’t. Not by a long shot. It wasn’t a Chernobyl-level thing and maybe not even Three-Mile Island. But what happened to the Astros in the eighth inning this afternoon may rank somewhere near the Saint-Laurent disaster in the meltdown pantheon.

Will Harris was on the mound for Houston, having taken the ball from Lance McCullers the previous inning. McCullers was great and Harris helped stop the would-be seventh-inning rally, but he was peppered in the eighth. Death by a thousand cuts, really. Alex Rios singled. Alcides Escobar singled. Ben Zobrist singled. Lorenzo Cain singled to drive in Rios. In came Tony Sipp for Harris and nothing changed. Eric Hosmer singled in Escobar, Kendrys Morales hit into a fielder’s choice that was booted to score two more runs and just like that it was tied.

Tony Sipp eventually got an out but he had two men on by then. Luke Gregerson came in to relieve Sipp to face Drew Butera, who has a career .241 on-base percentage and may be one of the worst hitters in baseball. Butera drew a walk because of course he did and the bases were loaded. Alex Gordon grounded out to score one more and by the time the very, very long top of the eighth ended it was 7-6 Royals. The air had been taken out of Minute Maid Park. The champagne, if it was in place, had been taken out of the Astros’ clubhouse.

The Royals weren’t done yet. After Wade Davis came in and got the first three quick outs of a potential six-out save, Eric Hosmer hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. 9-6 Royals. Wade Davis had a couple of bumps in the ninth but he shut it down for that six-out save. Ryan Madson — the Royals’ pitcher of record during that long top of the eighth — got the win despite giving up two homers and handing the Astros a big lead back in the seventh. He’ll take it.

As I write these words, the Astros are back in that clubhouse. They’re no doubt as quiet as church mice. They’re showering and dressing and getting ready to head to the airport for a long, tense flight to Kansas City and a Game Five that, an hour or two ago, they never would’ve guessed they’d have to play.

As they walk out of the clubhouse, I wonder if, in the event they happen to look down, they’ll see the wheel marks of those champagne and beer carts in the thick major league carpet. Wheeled in with confidence, wheeled out with haste.

Yankees pound Hyun-Jin Ryu, beat Dodgers 10-2

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“We haven’t had many games like this,” Dodgers manager Dave Robert said after last night’s loss to the Yankees. That’s for sure.

There were no wild walkoff hits. There were no home runs by Dodger batters. There were two, including a grand slam, from Didi Gregorius, however, and he and New York batters pounded Hyun-Jin Ryu, perhaps the stingiest pitcher in baseball this year, for seven runs on nine hits in four and a third as the Yankees beat the Dodgers 10-2 in Dodger Stadium.

Aaron Judge, who has been slumping something terrible, opened up the scoring with a solo home run in the third. Two batters later Gary Sánchez matched him with a blast of his own. An A.J. Pollock RBI single in the bottom half of the inning made it a 2-1 game but after that the Yankees stepped on the gas with a five-run fifth highlighted by a Didi Gregorius grand slam. Gleber Torres would homer in the sixth, Judge would single home a run in the eighth and Gregorius would strike again in the ninth with a solo homer for his second blast of the night. That one gave the Yankees 57 bombs in the month of August, which sets a team record. There’s still a week left in August too.

As for the Dodgers, Ryu was uncharacteristically rusty, though it probably should be noted that this was his second poor outing in a row. struggled through his second straight sub-par outing. The last time out he lost to Atlanta. allowing all four Braves’ runs in 5 2/3 innings as the Dodgers fell 4-3. His ERA came in to this game at a still-MLB-best 1.64, but those seven runs in fewer than five — his shortest outing in nearly two months — puffed it up to an even 2.00.

The Yankees scored just nine runs in their three losses in Oakland. Last night they beat that by one. And they brought themselves to within one game of the Dodgers for the best record in all of baseball, which would determine home field in the World Series should these two powerhouses meet.

For now, though, Roberts is limiting the implications of all of this to Friday night, saying “fortunately, it only counts for one loss.” Yep. But man, it was an ugly one.