HOUSTON – The American League Division Series even enters the fifth and final game of Thursday night, and the Astros have the benefits. They play at home – a result of their majors – most 107 regular season wins – and they have a better credited starting pitcher in Gerrit Cole.

But it certainly seems that the rays have the advantage.

Returning from the brink of elimination with consecutive victories in a juic Tropicana Field, the revived Rays had rolled into Houston on Wednesday, believing they had momentum on their side.

"We feel good about ourselves," said midfielder Kevin Kiermaier. "We know we don't have our crowd, which was absolutely amazing, but we've won on the road all year. And we plan to do it again in a difficult environment (in Minute Maid Park)."

Momentum, especially in baseball, is difficult to transfer. A bad opening inning by a starting pitcher or an expensive error can undo all the goodness of the day before. But the Rays seemed to have rekindled their confidence in the Games 3 and 4 wins, especially in the handling of Astros ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday after they were eliminated in Game 1.

Unspoken is the pressure that the Astros might feel because of what was supposed to be prior to their AL Championship Series battle with the Yankees. Their status as a favorite of the World Series suddenly runs on one game.

As much as the home crowd of the Astros can help, the Rays starting early on Thursday can quickly turn this into an uncomfortable and nervous gathering of 43,000.

"I think it's just who wants it more," said pitcher Blake Snell. "And I think this is the exciting role for us, because we've already played an elimination game. We actually did it. So for us it's just another game we'd like to play."

The Rays certainly have the motivation.

Winning twice at the Trop after shutting down in Houston the Rays could relax and exhale. It also seemed to enable them to speak out about what they felt as a rejection of their performance in winning 96 times, plus the AL wildcard game.

"To be honest, we were a little annoyed," said Snell. “I was annoyed by hearing this from Houston, Houston that. I know how good they are. I know how talented that team is. But I felt that everything that was driven by media was strictly about them, and they didn't give us credit. They were not talking about us at all.

“That's why I was irritated because we know how good we are. For us to fight back to 2-2, it's pretty cool. But we are not finished yet, and I know we have a very hard task to beat them here. "

To do this, the Rays will have to find a way to come back against Cole, who closed 15 more than 7⅔ shutout-innings, just like Tuesday against Verlander.

Although Cole rested regularly, he threw a career-high 118 pitch on Saturday, so there is that, plus the generally accepted advantage for the hitters of seeing a pitcher in back-to-back starts.

The Rays also want to get a strong five or six innings from their starter, Tyler Glasnow, although they showed on Tuesday that the use of five relievers and a Cy Young Award-winning starter in Snell can also work. Snell and Charlie Morton will be available in the bullpen.

In the past eight days, the Rays have played three games where a loss would have ended their season. They all won, despite being the underdog and beating Oakland in the wildcard game, and then twice the Astros.

Manager Kevin Cash said, as before, how impressed he was with the way his team dealt and reacted to the seemingly nasty situation. "They didn't hang their heads," he said.

Kiermaier said it's because they have too much to prove.

"We have this attitude that we don't care about," he said. "We don't care. We love a good challenge. That's what makes this game so great. You always want to play the best of the best, and we play the best team in baseball and we keep our own, and some .

"We are so pumped to go back to Houston. What a thrill, what a ride it has been so far. And we are not ready for this ride yet. Hopefully we are going out with our & # 39; A & # 39; game and keep this magic season going. We are fully capable of it. "

Or, as Infielder Brandon Lowe said, "A fairly simple way to look at it is that we are much better than many people think. … And I don't think we're done yet."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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