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 place Aaron Judge (strained calf) on IL

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Yankees star Aaron Judge was placed on the injured list with a right calf strain before Friday night’s game against Boston and manager Aaron Boone is optimistic the outfielder will not miss significant time.

The move was retroactive to Wednesday and Boone described the strain as mild after an MRI revealed the injury. To replace Judge on the roster, Thairo Estrada was recalled from the Yankees’ alternate site in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Judge began Friday leading the majors with nine homers and tied with Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the major league lead with 20 RBIs.

“It’s something that I think he really wants to try and work through here and kind of wants to be out here and feels like it’s a day-to-day thing which it may very well be, but I just think obviously it goes without saying how important a player Aaron is to us,” Boone said.

Boone had said last weekend’s series on the artificial turf in Tampa Bay took its toll on the 6-foot-7 outfielder.

Judge joined Giancarlo Stanton as the second Yankees slugger to land on the injured list this. Stanton was placed on the IL with a strained hamstring after getting hurt in the second game of last Saturday’s doubleheader.

“We’ve lost two MVP-caliber players,” Boone said. “Obviously that is a blow, especially two guys that playing well as they are right now.”

Judge was pulled for a pinch hitter during Tuesday night’s win over Atlanta and didn’t play Wednesday. The Yankees were off Thursday.

The 28-year-old All-Star missed time during July’s training camp because of a stiff neck.

The 2017 AL Rookie of the Year hit 27 homers in each of the last two seasons, both of them interrupted by injuries. His right wrist was broken when he was hit by a pitch in 2018 and he went on the injured list for two months last year with a left oblique strain.

Judge was diagnosed with a broken rib in March and would not have been ready for the season opener if the season began as scheduled on March 26.