HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander had just thrown 99 pitches over seven high-stress innings Friday night to help save the Houston Astros' season when he was asked if he might be available to get any outs as a reliever Saturday night.
"I don't know," Verlander said, laughing. "We'll have this conversation [Saturday]."
Welcome to Game 7.
With a trip to the World Series on the line, anything is possible. And while it is highly unlikely that Verlander will emerge from the bullpen even for a few pitches against the New York Yankees -- "I think he's done enough for us already," fellow Astros ace Dallas Keuchel said -- winner-take-all games always present the chance to see something extraordinary.
Besides, given the state of their shaky bullpen, the Astros might need Verlander to help record 27 outs. The Yankees, meanwhile, might want to close their eyes and pretend they're back home. They scored 19 runs in three games at Yankee Stadium in this series compared to three runs in three games at Minute Maid Park.
"I think there's some comfort to being at home," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "More teams have a better home record than away record. That's just the way baseball is."
The most important thing of the day: Here's an explanation for the disparity in the Yankees' offense: In Houston, they have faced Keuchel and Verlander; in New York, they faced everyone else the Astros have to offer (and Keuchel in Game 5). Neither Keuchel nor Verlander will start Game 7. Advantage: Yankees? It certainly seems that way. Astros starter Charlie Morton got only eight outs in Game 3 and 12 outs in a division series start against the Boston Red Sox. If he's unable to get deeper in Game 7, Astros manager A.J. Hinch will have to mix, match and pray that his bullpen can take it the rest of the way.
ALCS Game 7: Yankees at Astros (Series tied 3-3)
The stakes: Isn't it obvious? Winner moves on to the World Series, loser spends the winter brooding over what might have been. That's a Game 7 for you -- exhilarating, nerve-wracking, thrilling and terrifying, all rolled into nine innings. It's difficult to get much better.
If the Yankees win: They will raise a 41st AL pennant and play for their 28th world championship against their most familiar National League foe. In Brooklyn, Los Angeles and the Bronx, Yankees-Dodgers has always been a spectacle. This would be their 12th World Series meeting.
If the Astros win: It will be the reverse of 2004, when they blew a three-games-to-two edge in the LCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Astros will reach their second World Series and have a chance to do what the Killer B's couldn't in 2005 -- win the first world championship in franchise history.
One key stat to know: While the Astros might have to scramble to figure out their Game 7 pitching, the Yankees will hand the ball to Old Reliable. Not only is Sabathia familiar with the pressure of October (Saturday night will mark his 22nd career postseason start), but he's the Yankees' stopper. When he has taken the mound after a loss this season, he is 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA.
"That's our guy," Yankees slugger Aaron Judge said. "Anytime we need someone in a big situation, CC's been our guy."
The matchup that matters most: As bleak as it seemed midway through Game 6, there wasn't much chance the Astros' high-powered offense -- and Jose Altuve, in particular -- would go down without an eruption of runs. After scoring nine runs through the first five games of the series, the Astros scored seven runs in Game 6. As usual, Altuve led the way with two hits, including a solo homer, and three RBIs.
Altuve is one of the few Astros hitters who have done much of anything against Sabathia, going 2-for-8 with two RBIs in his career. If the Astros are going to put up another crooked number, Altuve will surely be a major part of the equation.
The prediction: By virtue of playing at Minute Maid Park, the Astros seem to have the edge, especially considering that the home team has won every game in the series. But home teams are only 53-54 all time in winner-take-all postseason games. Other than the venue, the arrow is pointing to the Yankees. They have a playoff-tested starter on the mound and a far deeper and more talented bullpen. They also are 4-0 in winner-take-all games this postseason. Judge & Co. will get into the Astros' bullpen and tee off for an 8-5 victory and head to Hollywood for another date with the Dodgers.