With the Nationals' stunning comeback and the Cardinals' rout on Wednesday, the National League Championship Series is set. Now it's time to see who'll meet the Yankees in the ALCS as the MLB playoffs continue on Thursday with a third winner-take-all Game 5.
Will the Rays' momentum carry over from their two wins in St. Pete -- or will the Astros continue to rock Minute Maid Park?
What's on tap
7:07 p.m. ET: Rays-Astros Game 5
The most important thing of the day: The Astros entered the postseason as the favorites to win it all. The Rays? They weren't even the favorites to win the wild-card game. In an unexpected Game 5, MLB's hottest pitcher, Gerrit Cole, is on the mound for the home team in Houston. Either we get the Astros-Yankees ALCS everyone expected, or the Rays' remarkable run will take them to the Bronx this weekend.
The view from inside the ballpark
HOUSTON -- It seems like everyone is trying to convince those incredulous over Tampa Bay's presence in a Game 5 against the 107-win Astros that the Rays are, in fact, really good. That goes for both sides. During the Rays' bullpen game in Game 4, Kevin Cash staggered his pitching changes so that no pitcher faced a Houston batter more than once. But AJ Hinch suggested Thursday that might have a similar effect to the one everyone is alluding to with Astros ace Cole facing the Rays for the second time in less than a week: The Astros saw Cash's high-leverage pitchers just two days ago. In other words, whatever happens in Game 5, there will be no surprises between these teams. -- Bradford Doolittle
A stat to impress your friends: The Rays are looking to become the fourth team in postseason history to win five straight games when facing elimination on the road. Their streak includes two games in the 2010 ALDS, the 2013 AL wild-card game and this year's AL wild-card game. The other three teams to do this (1952-60 Yankees, 2005-12 Cardinals, 2012-16 Giants) won multiple World Series during their respective spans.
The Astros are just too good, and Cole is just too dominant. Look for the Astros to nick up Tyler Glasnow early, then ride the energy of the Minute Maid crowd into the ALCS. Astros 7, Rays 1. -- Doolittle
The Rays are showing everyone how good they are and how deep that bullpen is. I cannot, however, pick against a pitcher who has won 17 consecutive decisions, including a dominant outing in Game 2, and against a team that won 107 games and is playing at home. Cole went 7⅔ innings and threw 118 pitches in Game 2. If he's a little more efficient, he could go all nine innings. Astros 3, Rays 1 -- David Schoenfield
About last night
Stud of the night: Nothing says "stud" like hitting a grand slam in extra innings of a winner-take-all game. Howie Kendrick, take a bow.
Dud of the night: Can we go with co-duds of the night? Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves' Game 5 starter, recorded just one out (on a sacrifice bunt, no less) and gave up seven runs (six earned) en route to a record 10-run St. Louis opening frame. By the time that first inning was over, so was the game -- as well as Atlanta's season. And as bad as Folty's Game 5 went, it's hard to ignore the 106-win Dodgers seeing their season end via first-round knockout here.
Highlight of the night:
Off the diamond
Social media says:
Quotes of note: "I love that we're here. And the way we got here is nerve-racking just because you don't want to get to a Game 5. We fought all year to have a better record and to win our division to get this particular game at home. And they've got to come into our house and beat us again. With Cole on the mound, I don't know who could be more confident than us." -- Astros manager AJ Hinch
"It was a very calm flight over. We left at noon. I watched a movie and passed out. Other guys were playing dominoes. It was just very chill. And then the bus ride was very calm as well. We're ready to play. And I think this moment is where we thrive best. But we're very calm and relaxed, and I think that's what makes it even more exciting for us." -- Rays pitcher Blake Snell
Best of the playoffs so far ...
Our running postseason MVP: Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto have better overall numbers, but we've got to go with the Nationals' Howie Kendrick. A game-winning grand slam in extra innings of an elimination game is hard to beat.
The play of this October: We're going to cheat and make this "plays": the back-to-back home runs by Rendon and Soto off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS. Kershaw in the wake of Soto's game-tying bomb could end up as the lasting image of these playoffs.
Game of the postseason so far: Nationals-Dodgers, Game 5 of the NLDS. The Dodgers' ambushing Stephen Strasburg, Strasburg settling down and keeping the Nats in it, Walker Buehler's mastery, Kershaw's big strikeout before his eighth-inning implosion, Kendrick's 10th-inning slam, questions for L.A. manager Dave Roberts. There's a lot to unpack here, and this was a true postseason classic.