SAN DIEGO — How many other managers would have taken Zack Greinke out of the game in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night?
All of them, most likely. Modern baseball is an exercise in playing the percentages to mitigate risk, and Greinke was in trouble.
The Houston Astros had a two-run lead, but the Tampa Bay Rays had two runners on and the hottest hitter in the playoffs, Randy Arozarena, coming up. He had already belted a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
With the Astros a loss away from elimination, and Greinke facing the Rays order for the third time around, the analytics-approved move would have been to bring in a relief pitcher.
That’s what 71-year-old Dusty Baker intended to do when he came to the mound. But catcher Martin Maldonado adamantly told him Greinke was pitching well enough to escape the jam.
Baker trusted his player.
“I can’t lie to you, there were some prayers involved on the way back to the dugout,” he said.
Greinke struck out Arozarena. Ji-Man Choi singled to load the bases, and still Baker remained in the dugout. Greinke then struck out Division Series hero Mike Broussard to finally end the inning.
It was the deciding moment in a 4-3 victory for the Astros at Petco Park.
“It was more old-school, doing the right thing that I thought was right and we came out ahead,” Baker said.
Greinke’s first postseason victory since 2015 extended the series at least another day. Game 5 is Thursday at 5:07 p.m. (ET), with the Rays still a win away from the World Series.
Jose Altuve, whose jittery defense at second base contributed to the Astros losing Games 2 and 3, was 2 for 4 with a home run, an opposite-field double, and two RBIs.
George Springer added a two-run homer in the fifth inning, a blast off the top of the warehouse in left field.
Greinke did not speak to Baker during that visit to the mound, expecting he would be taken out. He found him after the game and expressed his appreciation.
“It was nice having someone have confidence in me. Because since I’ve been here, they haven’t seemed to have confidence in my ability,” Greinke said.
Former Houston manager A.J. Hinch took Greinke out in the fifth inning of two playoff games last season despite his having allowed only one run.
He also was pulled from Game 7 of the World Series with a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. The Astros went on to a 6-2 loss.
“There are more examples. Probably a dozen if you look back at it,” Greinke said.
Baker, Greinke said, trusts what he sees.
“Not everyone has that skill. Not many people do. But he’s been impressive in that regard,” the righthander said.
The players in the Houston dugout showed more emotion than they had all series when Altuve homered to center field off Tyler Glasnow in the first inning.
He then doubled in a run with two outs in the third inning. The Astros to that point were 4 for 24 without an RBI with runners in scoring position in the series.
Baker and the Astros had pledged their support to Altuve after a series of wayward throws. The six-time All-Star was with the Astros when they lost 107 games in 2012 and has been at the core of their success since, however tainted it might be.
As fortune would have it, Altuve was called on to make only two throws in the game and did so then without issue. He was tested in the ninth inning, but fielded a sharp ground ball and fired it to second base for a force out.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Altuve said. “I showed up today ready to play baseball and help my team.”
There are no yips at the plate. He is 13 of 39 in the postseason with five home runs, 10 RBIs and eight runs in 10 games.
“Everybody was just so happy for Altuve,” Baker said.
The Rays, as they always do, made it tough.
Down two runs with two outs in the ninth inning, Willy Adames doubled to center field off Pressly. Adames then moved to third base on a wild pitch.
Yoshi Tsutsugo, who had started only two of the previous 10 postseason games, hit the ball sharply to right field but Springer backpedaled and made the catch.
As Houston fought to keep playing, a person armed with a loudspeaker stood outside the ballpark and read off the names of Astros players who were part of the team’s cheating scandal in 2017.
“The baseball community has not forgotten your transgressions,” the well-spoken critic said.
Maybe not. But the Astros are still alive.
“I’m not ready to go home. Nobody’s ready to go home,” Baker said.