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Correa homer keeps Astros alive against Rays, Braves bounce back

Houston's Carlos Correa watches his game-winning home run in the Astros' 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in game five of baseball's American League Championship Series - EZRA SHAW / ©AFP
Houston's Carlos Correa watches his game-winning home run in the Astros' 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in game five of baseball's American League Championship Series - EZRA SHAW / ©AFP

(AFP)

Carlos Correa’s walk-off home run lifted the Houston Astros to a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday to force a game six in baseball’s American League Championship Series.

With a World Series berth on the line, the 2017 Major League Baseball champion Astros showed again they won’t go quietly, fending off elimination as they trimmed the deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2.

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“I don’t want to go home yet,” Correa said. “We were down 0-3, we had a players’ meeting in the clubhouse and we said we don’t want to go home yet, so we better do something about it.

“We’re down 2-3 and still have a lot of work to do, but it’s a good start.”

The winner of the series will take on either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Marcell Ozuna homered twice and the Braves piled up six runs in the sixth inning on the way to a 10-2 victory in Arlington, Texas, that stretched their series lead to 3-1.

It was a closer affair in San Diego, where Rays first baseman Choi Ji-man had tied the game at 3-3 with a solo homer in the eighth.

But Tampa Bay couldn’t build on that in the top of the ninth and Correa delivered the knockout blow in the bottom of the final frame.

Correa belted a 1-1 fastball from Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson into the centerfield seats to deliver a victory that keeps the Astros in the hunt to complete a rare comeback.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone,” Correa said.

In 38 prior attempts, only one Major League Baseball team — the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS — has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

“Tough loss, great ball game,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We have to get the bats going.”

The Astros were on top from the start thanks to a leadoff homer from George Springer.

Tampa pulled even on Brandon Lowe’s solo shot to deep right field in the third.

Houston gained some breathing room when Michael Brantley’s single scored two runs in the third.

But the Rays responded with a solo homer from Randy Arozarena, his sixth of this post-season, in the fifth and Choi’s eighth-inning blast.

They’ll return on Friday in San Diego, with the Rays aiming to close out the series and the Astros trying to force a decisive game seven.

In wind-whipped Arlington, Braves rookie pitcher Bryse Wilson made his first post-season start and out-dueled three-time Cy Young Award-winner Clayton Kershaw.

“This morning I was a little nervous. Once I got to the field I calmed down a little bit,” said 22-year-old Wilson, who gave up one hit and one run — on Edwin Rios’s third-inning homer — over six innings with five strikeouts and one walk.

Kershaw, meanwhile, gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings and was chased in the sixth after giving up a run-scoring double to Ozuna.

– ‘domino effect’ –

Ronald Acuna had reached first on an infield single and advanced on Enrique Hernandez’s throwing error.

Freddie Freeman then put the Braves ahead with a double that scored Acuna.

Ozuna, who had already homered off Kershaw, followed with a run-scoring single that spelled the end of Kershaw’s night with the Braves up 3-1.

Dansby Swanson belted a two-run double off relief pitcher Brusdar Graterol, and Austin Riley’s single scored Swanson.

The Dodgers turned to reliever Victor Gonzalez, who gave up a single to Cristian Pache that scored Riley.

In all Atlanta sent 11 batters to the plate in the sixth and emerged from the inning with a 7-1 lead.

It didn’t match the Dodgers’ 11-run first inning on Wednesday, but it was more than enough to put the Braves within one win of reaching the world Series for the first time since 1999.

“They’re similar to us as far as they build on momentum really well,” Kershaw said. “It just seems like they have that domino effect — one thing gets going (and) they just continue to build on that.

“They’ve got great hitters, too. They’re a good team, and (we’ve) just got to come back and win tomorrow.”

After the Dodgers pulled a run back in the top of the seventh, Ozuna belted his second homer of the game — a 433-foot blast to center field — in the bottom of the frame.

He finished the night with four hits and four runs batted in, including a run-scoring single in the eighth when the Braves tacked on two more runs.

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