The Tampa Bay Rays live to see another day. The Rays scored three huge first-inning runs against Justin Verlander on Tuesday and knocked the right-hander out of the ballgame in the fourth inning. That propelled the Rays to a second consecutive win over the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series, forcing a fifth game to be played on Thursday. The good guys held on to beat the ‘Stros by a 4-1 margin in front of 32,178 loud fans at Tropicana Field.
As he did six times during the regular season, Diego Castillo opened the game and fanned three batters after allowing a leadoff single to George Springer. His first inning of work included an absolutely filthy 99 mph fastball which cut in on a whiffing Jose Altuve, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat.
Meanwhile, Tommy Pham got the first-inning run-scoring rally going by drilling a 2-2 changeup over the wall into left-center for an early lead.
It was Pham’s second homer of the postseason.
Ji-Man Choi walked before Avisail Garcia laced a single to left. And with two on and one out, Travis d’Arnaud lined a single to left, scoring Choi for a two-run lead. Joey Wendle capped the scoring by ripping a double into the right-field corner, scoring Garcia for an early and unrelinquishable lead.
Castillo made his way to the mound once again in the second inning and allowed a one-out walk to Yuli Gurriel, but departed the game only after he got Carlos Correa to pop out to third.
Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough took over in his place and quickly got Josh Reddick to line-out to first, thanks to a great play by Ji-Man Choi — the first of two fantastic plays on the night.
In the fourth inning, Yarbrough found himself in trouble, although he was helped out by a terrific bang-bang throw at the plate.
Altuve singled to left to start the frame, and with one out, Yordan Alvarez hit a booming double to the wall in center. Kevin Kiermaier played the carom on a hop and threw a strike to Willy Adames, who was about 10 feet behind second base. Still, Adames quickly threw a bullet home to d’Arnaud at home to cut down the always dangerous Altuve.
Nick Anderson finished the inning by coaxing Gurriel into a ground out, ending the threat.
Then in a beautiful moment of serendipity, Adames led off the bottom of the sixth inning by crushing a 1-1 pitch off the D-ring in left-center, putting the Rays up by four.
It was willy’s second homer in as many days.
Verlander, who was pitching on three days rest, made an ungraceful exit three batters later. Tuesday’s game will go down as Verlander’s shortest outing ever against Tampa Bay. The presumptive Cy Young Award winner relinquished seven hits and three walks across 3-2/3 innings while striking out five. He threw 52 of 84 pitches for strikes (62% strike rate).
Anderson continued to pitch through the sixth inning, posting the longest outing of his big league career. In 2-1/3 innings of work, Anderson punched out two and allowed just one hit. The right-hander benefitted from another excellent play by Choi, who snared a line drive off the bat of Michael Brantley and stepped on first to turn the unassisted double play.
After Anderson, Colin Poche took over and collected five outs, while striking out two, before former Ray Robinson Chirinos hit a two-out homer to right-center to draw Houston within three, chasing Poche.
Tasked with getting the final four outs of the game, Emilio Pagan got the last out in the eighth, then took the mound again in the ninth. Pagan walked Altuve on a close full-count pitch with one out, bringing Alex Bregman to the plate. The 2019 All-Star singled to left-center, putting runners at the corners and chasing Pagan.
Blake Snell, making his first big league relief appearance, entered to face Alvarez, who represented the tying run. Alvarez went down swinging on a slider for the second out; allowing Bregman to move up 90 feet on defensive indifference. Finally, Gurriel grounded to Wendle at second base, ending the game with another orange roof.
All told, six pitchers combined to limit Houston to six hits and two walks. Compare that to Tampa Bay, which had 13 hits (including four from Garcia, and three from Pham).
Rays win, 4-1, one more ALDS ballgame to go.