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Schmuck: Astros put on a brave face as they face an almost impossible task

Groundskeepers prepare the infield for batting practice at Nationals Park in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are scheduled to play Game 3 of baseball's World Series on Friday, Oct. 25. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Groundskeepers prepare the infield for batting practice at Nationals Park in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are scheduled to play Game 3 of baseball's World Series on Friday, Oct. 25. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Houston Astros have this much going for them: They get to dream the almost impossible dream as they take the field for Game 3 of the World Series at Nationals Park.

They lost the first two games of the best-of-seven Fall Classic at home, which will put them in some rare company if they find some way to shake off the daunting probabilities and rebound to win their second title in three years.

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There have been only three teams in baseball history — the 1985 Kansas City Royals, the ’86 Mets and the ’96 Yankees — that have ventured down this narrow statistical tunnel and come out the other side with the big trophy.

If you want more proof that the Washington Nationals are sitting pretty going into Game 3 on Friday night, consider that of the last 10 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the World Series — either at home or away — six of them have gone on to complete a four-game sweep.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch has been fielding questions about it for the past couple of days and he’s been responding with the perspective you might expect of somebody facing such a huge challenge.

“This is a group of guys that have won a lot of games,'' he said during his offday press conference on Thursday, “and I understand that everybody wants the pressure put on us. That’s great. We’ve responded great to pressure. I understand they have a 2-0 lead. Their view of the finish line is a little closer than ours.”

The Astros won more games (107) than any other team in baseball this season, so winning four of the next five isn’t exactly inconceivable. It’s just very unlikely, based on both the historical context and the fact that they’re playing a team that enters Game 3 with eight straight postseason victories.

The Astros not only have to play like they played all year, they also have to overcome a very hot pitching staff that will send Game 1 starter Max Scherzer and Game 2 starter Stephen Strasburg against them again if they are still alive after Game 4 on Saturday.

"But there’s no gloom and doom with us,'' Hinch said. “We’ve got to try to do better. We’ve got an opportunity to do it in Game 3 and absolutely flip any sort of perceived momentum in our direction.”

If the Astros were thrown into a state of shock by the Nationals’ late-inning eruption that turned Game 2 into a blowout, it isn’t apparent.

"That’s a really good team in the Nationals and they pitched well, they play well, they hit well,'' outfielder George Springer said Friday. “They did everything better than us. But I don’t know why a lot of people don’t give them credit. They played well. They beat us in our home park. It is what it is. And we move on. And, yes, obviously a big game. We’ll see what happens.”

"But there’s no gloom and doom with us,'' Hinch said. “We’ve got to try to do better. We’ve got an opportunity to do it in Game 3 and absolutely flip any sort of perceived momentum in our direction.”

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