When 22 year old Houston Astros rookie Lance McCullers takes the mound against the Kansas City Royals Monday afternoon, all that's riding on his outing is an appearance in the American League Championship Series.
The Astros 4-2 win over the Royals on Sunday set up an elimination game in Houston Monday afternoon and McCullers gets the ball. His hope is he can duplicate the results he got when he faced Kansas City earlier in the year. In that game McCullers went seven innings in a 6-1 Astros win.
"It was a couple months ago when I faced them," McCullers said. "They're an aggressive club. They can do all things, they can bunt, they can hit for high averages and hit the ball out of the park. So you have to do your best to neutralize them early and often."
The Royals are down, but they're not out. They'll turn to Game 1 starter Yordano Ventura, who pitched only a couple innings in Thursday's Game 1 due to a rain delay that forced Royals manager Ned Yost to remove Yordano.
"We sat down as a group and looked at it," Yost said about Ventura coming back on three days rest. "Ventura bounces back really, really well. We wanted to have our best power arms coming at these guys."
On Sunday it was Cy Young favorite Dallas Keuchel who beat the Royals and put them on the brink of elimination. Keuchel pitched the Astros to this series by beating the Yankees in the AL wildcard game last week, and after seeing Houston lose 310 games in his first three seasons with the organization, Keuchel is enjoying this October and has an appreciation for these moments.
"I think that success is a lot more sweet when you kind of go through hardship like we did the first couple years that I was up here," Keuchel said. "But it's really not a confidence that has grown. It's been here the whole time ... just now that we're getting to the playoffs and on a national stage ... it's a shock to a lot of people."
Keuchel was also quick to credit the crowd in Houston for the excitement they generated.
"Electric crowd, and it was 10 years coming," Keuchel said.
Keuchel wasn't as good or as dominant as he has been for most of the season, but he got big outs when he needed them and frustrated the Royals in doing so.
"You get to this type of scenario and you don't capitalize, you get what happens today," said Yost.
One of the guys not capitalizing often this series is Royals 1B and cleanup hitter Eric Hosmer, who's hitting .083 so far in the first three games. He realizes the Royals have no margin for error going forward.
"Every game is a must-win," Hosmer said. "Obviously, it didn't work out the way we wanted it today. We have to come back and do everything we can to win and take it back to Kansas City."
Yost echoed Hosmer's sentiments.
"We have got to win two, they got to win one," Yost said. "But we come out tomorrow and we win, then it's excitement back at the K for Game 5. So, we're looking forward to that."