October 15, 2020 | 12:10am
Like any proper bad guy, the Astros won’t go without a fight.
The Astros staved off elimination for at least one night — and avoided a sweep — with a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the ALCS on Wednesday night in San Diego.
George Springer delivered the go-ahead homer in the fifth and Houston manager Dusty Baker lived up to his reputation as an old-school manager by leaving Zack Greinke in to finish the sixth inning despite the right-hander having not lasted that deep into a game in more than a month.
It added up to the Astros staying alive at Petco Park as they attempt to get to the World Series for the third time in four years.
The Astros barely held on in the ninth.
Cristian Javier pitched two scoreless innings before Houston closer Ryan Pressly entered after Javier walked Ji-Man Choi to lead off the ninth. Pressly retired the next two batters — one on a force out — before Willy Adames nearly tied the game with a double to left-center that just missed being a two-run homer. Joey Wendle scored to get the Rays within a run and Adames moved to third on a wild pitch before Pressly got Yoshi Tsutsugo on a fly ball to right.
Jose Altuve opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a two-out solo shot. The second baseman had made three errors in the previous two games and came up again against Tampa Bay right-hander Tyler Glasnow with two on and two out in the top of the third.
After drilling his first-inning home run to left, Altuve delivered an opposite-field double to right to drive in Martin Maldonado to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Greinke allowed just one base runner through the first three innings, and that runner was immediately erased on a double play in the third.
The Rays got to the right-hander in the top of the fourth.
Austin Meadows got Tampa Bay’s first hit through the right side of the infield with one out before Randy Arozarena took Greinke deep for a two-run shot off a hanging curveball to tie the game at 2-2.
It was Arozarena’s fifth homer of the postseason after he tore through the Yankees in the ALDS.
Springer answered with a monstrous two-run blast to left with one out in the fifth to put Houston up again, 4-2.
But Tampa Bay threatened in the top of the sixth, as Manuel Margot reached on an infield single with one out and Meadows single to right.
That brought a visit from Baker, and with Pressley up in the bullpen, Greinke’s night appeared to be coming to an end.
Baker, though, decided to stick with Greinke against the game’s hottest hitter, Arozarena.
The gamble paid off, as Greinke struck out Arozarena — with some help from a questionable call from first-base umpire Tim Timmons on a check swing for strike three.
Choi followed with a slow grounder toward shortstop that went for an infield single, as Carlos Correa was shifted near second base.
Still, with the bases loaded, Baker stuck with Greinke and the 36-year-old whiffed another ALDS hero, Mike Brosseau, with a 3-2 changeup.
“We’ve got to win a game before we do anything,’’ Alex Bregman said before the game. “That’s what it comes down to. Rattle off four straight [wins]? We can’t say that. Let’s not get swept out there and play well.’’
Now, they need to win three more in a row.
Through it all, Baker will remain one of a kind as he tries to navigate the Astros through their first postseason since an MLB investigation found they used an illegal sign-stealing scheme throughout their run to the 2017 World Series title.
No series deficit will change Baker’s mentality.
“It’s part of my background,’’ Baker said of his positive attitude. “I think that’s why the Lord brought me here [to the Astros]. If there wasn’t a negative air about things, I wouldn’t have this job because they wouldn’t need me.”