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Astros one win from historic World Series title fightback

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Houston (AFP)

On the verge of a historic World Series fightback, the Houston Astros returned home Monday planning to lean on resilience and experience to capture a second title in three seasons.

The Astros own a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball's best-of-seven final and if they beat Washington in game six Tuesday they will become only the fourth team to take the crown after dropping the first two games at home.

"We took a pretty heavy punch in the gut when it came to the first two games," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

"We know how quickly momentum can shift. We're not going to take anything for granted, but our confidence level is good."

It should be after three wins in Washington where the Nationals hit only .175 and scored just once in each game. But Washington defied the odds all season just to get this far after a 19-31 start to the campaign.

"The guys feel good. They're all upbeat," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "This is way far from over."

The Astros won an MLB-best 107 games in the regular season, then needed a one-game winner-take-all victory over Tampa Bay to advance and then bounced back from losing an American League final opener against the New York Yankees.

"Resiliency," Hinch said. "This is not a magic carpet ride of a season. We've been successful. We had a lot of wins. But there's still been this sense of we have to keep proving it. And that's resiliency."

Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole, the MLB season strikeout leader, used the same term to sum up the Astros' year.

"Resiliency is a great word," Cole said. "We just put one foot in front of the next, respond to the challenges that come our way, shower off the mistakes and celebrate the amazing plays."

Not since the 1996 New York Yankees rallied to beat Atlanta has a club overcome losing the first two at home to capture the title.

- Success into confidence -

Houston's 2017 World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers has provided confidence the Astros can fight through any challenge.

"The confidence comes from the success we've had," Hinch said.

"Any experience pays off at this time. We've been there, done that. I've made big decisions in these type of games before. So there's a comfort and belief in myself and the process I have as a manager.

"When you do play the experience card is when you're under the most stress. And I would tell you game six and game seven in the World Series is high stress. This is where you lean on experience."

For Hinch, that has meant keeping his cool when falling behind 0-2 in a World Series where his club was a heavy favorite.

"When something doesn't go your way, there's an immediate overreaction. 'What's going on? What's wrong with your team?'" Hinch said.

"And my message is always that we're the same team. We're the same talent. We have the same vibe. We have the same preparation. It's like you get defensive on your team when you get doubted."

A players-only meeting helped the Astros regain their poise. Since then they've outscored the Nationals 19-3.

"The leadership in that room is impressive," Hinch said. "We started to bring our personality back. We started to bring our run production back. We started playing from ahead. That was key for us. Nothing has really changed other than the pressure we've been able to apply."

- Injuries hit Nats hard -

The Nationals lost star pitcher Max Scherzer to neck muscle spasms and his status remained uncertain for a possible game-seven start.

"There won't be a game seven if we can't win a game six so our focus is winning and go from there," Martinez said.

The Nats figure to welcome back catcher Kurt Suzuki, who suffered a hip flexor injury in game four but hopes to play in Tuesday's must-win contest.

"Pretty much everybody eliminated us from the season in May, so we've kind of been playing like every game was an elimination game since then," Suzuki said. "You've just got to go out and play. You can't worry about what's at stake."

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