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Brian McCann's slump-busting hit boosts Astros, dooms Yankees as Game 7 looms

The Houston Astros offense needed a boost in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It mattered little who provided it. With an offense that was limited to nine runs over the first five games by New York Yankees pitching. With their season on the brink, they didn’t have time or room to be choosy.

That hit. That boost. It came, and the moment all belonged to Brian McCann. The veteran catcher, who last season plied his trade for the Yankees, is at least for now the postseason hero who prevented his former team from advancing to the World Series.

The revenge narrative is definitely in play. But the fact that McCann so damaged his former team wasn’t the only story. It’s the fact he was among the least likely candidates to come through against Yankees starter Luis Severino. At least based on how this series was going.

The Yankees hard-throwing right-hander entered that inning having allowed just one run on three hits over his first eight innings in the series. As for McCann, he entered that at-bat mired in a massive slump. Not only was he 0-for-11 in the ALCS, he was 0 for his last 20 overall. That gave Astros fans little reason to be confident he could turn around a Severino 98-mph fastball for a run-scoring double. Yet that’s exactly what he did.

When McCann’s rocket landed and one-hopped over the fence, the Astros had the game’s critical first run. At the time, it looked like that might be all they’d need to support Justin Verlander in his quest to wipe out Yankees batters and save the Astros season.

It wasn’t. But fortunately for the Astros, that wasn’t the end of their offense.

Astros’ catcher Brian McCann reacts after hitting an RBI double during the fifth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. (AP)

McCann did more than snap his slump, he ignited Houston’s entire offense leading to a season-extending 7-1 win.

“Obviously we’ve been waiting for the big hit for a couple of games,” manager A.J. Hinch said following the game. “And no better time than for McCann to have a really good at-bat battle, get a pitch he could drive, and then obviously break things open.

“A good offensive output today, kick-started by him.”

The Astros plated three runs during that decisive inning, with likely AL MVP Jose Altuve providing a two-run single to cap it. Altuve would also kickstart a four-run eight inning with a solo home run, before Alex Bregman delivered the dagger with a two-run double against David Robertson.

The seven run outburst had to feel like 15 or 20 after this past week. Perhaps it was inevitable. After all, this Astros offense led the entire league in runs scored during the regular season, and then it crushed Boston’s pitching during the ALDS. They’re always capable of putting up big numbers. But something was lacking in this series, whether it be confidence, energy or both.

McCann’s swing changed that. It changed the atmosphere in Minute Maid Park. It changed the mood in the Astros dugout. And it changed the feeling of the entire game.

Now the question is: Will it change the series?

The Astros challenge won’t get any easier with CC Sabathia waiting in Game 7. It was Sabathia’s six scoreless innings in Game 3 that originally turned the series in New York’s favor. It’s his experience in these situations that could give New York an edge. But maybe the real edge lies with Houston, who’s offense came alive just in time to save the season.

We won’t know those answers until these two teams meet again on Saturday, but we do know that Brian McCann and the Astros will feel much better walking into Game 7 than they did leaving New York.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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