Ji-Man Choi hit one of three Rays’ homers on Thursday, yet that still wasn’t enough. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

There’s an old saying that goes, “You can’t win games if you don’t score runs,” and that wasn’t more evident than on Thursday, when the Tampa Bay Rays dropped their second consecutive game to the Astros, 4-3. Tampa Bay’s pitching held up for the most part, yet the offense couldn’t muster enough runs to clinch a World Series berth. The Rays still lead the American League Championship Series three-games-to-two, yet it’s the first time they have lost back-to-back games in the postseason, and the first time overall since September 8th and 10th (vs. Washington then Boston).

Tampa Bay faced an uphill struggle for most of the day. After going down in order in a 1-2-3 top of the first against right-hander Luis Garcia, they trailed Houston after the very first pitch in the bottom of the frame, when George Springer first-pitch fastball for an instant one-run lead.

And in a seemingly perpetual cycle of pain that would torment the Rays for most of the game, Tampa Bay had an excellent opportunity to answer in the second. Ji-Man Choi worked a one-out walk before Joey Wendle was hit by an 0-2 pitch one out later. Willy Adames walked to load the bases, yet Mike Zunino drove an 0-2 fastball to right that was caught by Josh Reddick on the warning track. The ball in play had the right exit velocity, measuring 104 mph off the bat, yet it didn’t have the distance.

Tampa Bay was able to knot the score at one in the third inning with Blake Taylor on the mound. Brandon Lowe welcomed Taylor with a long homer to right-center — his first home run since September 23rd, and just his second hit of the series. While that was his only hit of the game, Lowe did make contact in each of his first three at-bats (including the homer). His final at-bat of the game vs. Ryan Pressly looked to be more of the same, although he did look better overall on Thursday.

Yet Houston answered immediately, consequently taking the lead for the second time. Down 0-2, and after having seen three borderline pitches (that should have been called strikes), Josh Reddick looped a single to right. Martín Maldonado followed with a doubled to right, putting runners into scoring position. Two batters later, Michael Brantley singled to right, scoring both runners to put Houston up by two.

Enoli Paredes walked two of the first three batters in the fourth inning yet — and as the rule for the game would dictate — Adames and Zunino struck out, keeping the Rays behind by a pair.

Tampa Bay was able to get within a run in the fifth inning when Randy Arozarena homered with one out. It was Big Randy’s third homer of the series, and sixth of the postseason — tying Evan Longoria for the franchise record. They also got the tying run into scoring position in the fifth after Meadows walked and Choi singled, but Margot grounded to third to end the threat.

From that point on, Houston’s ‘pen kept Tampa Bay in check all the way through the seventh inning.

Yet with one swing of the bat in the top of the eighth, Tampa Bay tied the score at three apiece. Choi blasted a solo shot into right field that was just shy of the 450-feet foot mark. Margot singled, but as fate would have it, Wendle grounded into a 1-6-3 double play before Ryan Pressly entered the game in relief. Pressly struck out Adames to end the top of the threat.

Pressley finished the eighth and then allowed a single to Zunino to open the ninth. Kevin Kiermaier pinch-ran at first. Pressly struck out Lowe for the first out. Then, with Arozarena at the plate, Kiermaier moved into second on a two-strike wild pitch. Yet, Arozarena flew out into shallow right before Meadows popped out to center.

The Rays’ inability to score set up Houston’s walk-off home run against Nick Anderson.

Anderson, who hurled a perfect eighth, took the mound again in the ninth with the game tied at three. After Alex Bregman popped out to Brandon Lowe in right, Carlos Correa hit a solo homer to center field on a 1-1 pitch, ending the game.

All told, the Rays went 0-6 wRISP and scored exactly no two-out runs.

The New What Next

A rematch of the series openers; Blake Snell (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will get the start in game six of the ALCS, pitching opposite of Framber Valdez (2-0, 2.00 ERA).

Blake Snell got the start on Sunday and battled his way through five innings on 105 pitches (61 strikes, 58% strike rate, 20% SwStr%), allowing multiple base runners in three of five frames. Yet, the lefty gave up just one run on six hits and two walks while striking out a pair. Snell threw only nine of 21 first-pitch strikes.

The only run of the game came on a Jose Altuve homer to left-center on a first-inning 2-1 fastball at the top of the zone. It was Altuve’s fourth homer in 16 at-bats against Snell.

He also got a little defensive help from his friends, as Snell picked a runner off in the third inning, and benefitted from a line-drive double play turned by Willy Adames in the fourth.

Framber Valdez allowed two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out eight across six innings on Sunday. While he improved his walk rate during the regular season, he did not have control five days ago. Valdez issued a season-high four walks and paid the price as the go-ahead run got on base via a free pass. The southpaw still owns a 2.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 postseason innings. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-4, HR), Yandy Diaz (1-2), Brandon Lowe (1-4), Mike Zunino (1-3)

You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.

Rays 10/16/20 Starting Lineup

  1. Brosseau 2B
  2. Arozarena DH
  3. Renfroe RF
  4. Diaz 1B
  5. Lowe LF
  6. Margot CF
  7. Adames SS
  8. Wendle 3B
  9. Zunino C

Noteworthiness

— Kevin Kiermaier will not start for Tampa Bay for the third consecutive game. Kiermaier has sat out the last two games after being hit on the left hand by a 99 mile per hour fastball in game three, although he did appear in last night’s contest.

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