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Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Tampa's Lance McCullers Jr. knows this stage — and this feeling

He has been on this stage before, two postseasons ago.

And he knows this feeling, too.

Former Jesuit High star Lance McCullers Jr. shined back then. He shined again Tuesday. His team lost again, too.

The 24-year-old Houston Astros right-hander dominated the New York Yankees through six shutout innings at Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, allowing just one hit as Houston took a 4-0 lead. They were nine outs from a commanding 3-1 series lead.

I was happy for the kid.

Then he gave up a lead-off home run to Gigantor, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. Then he was lifted. Then the Yankees devoured the Houston bullpen. McCullers paced the Astros dugout as the Yankees closed to 4-2. The he saw the Yankees make it 4-3, then Judge tied it on an RBI double and Yankees catcher doubled in two more. Baby Bombers win, 6-4. Series tied.

It reminded me of the 201t5 postseason, when McCullers threw 6-plus innings of two-hit, two-run ball in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals. When McCullers left, the  Astros were six outs from the ALCS. Kansas City rallied from 6-2 down, won Game 4 and then the deciding fifth game. The Royals went on to win the World Series.

But McCullers had the stage for a while. Good for him.

His 2017 had been a story of two seasons. McCullers was one of the top pitchers in baseball for the first three months, 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA, an All-Star selection. He even made the cover of Sports Illustrated – or at least his curveball grip did.

But back problems and arm fatigue ran him down in the second half, and he made just six starts and had a 8.23 ERA. He gave up two runs in three innings of relief against Boston in the ALDS.

But he sparkled Tuesday – just one bloop hit – until that home run. McCullers hadn’t worked into the seventh inning in four months.

In two postseason starts, McCullers has pitched 12.1 innings, allowing four hits, with a 1.48 ERA. He has been that good. But there was Judge’s home run. And then having to watch it all fall apart.

Lance McCullers has been there.





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