Justin Verlander tossed seven shutout innings and the Astros scored four runs in the fifth inning to beat the Rays 6-2 in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park.
The Rays managed just one hit against Verlander, who struck out eight on 100 pitches. Tampa failed to get a runner into scoring position until the eighth inning.
Jose Altuve hit a two-run homer off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow in the fifth to open the scoring and Houston would add two more unearned runs in the inning to cushion its lead.
Down 6-0, Tampa put together a two-out rally in the eighth against reliever Ryan Pressly. They scored two runs and got the tying run into the on-deck circle, but Will Harris came in and retired Ji-man Choi to end the threat.
It was a disappointing start to the series for the Rays, who were hoping to steal at least one game in Houston against the Astros’ top pitchers.
Things came undone for the Rays in the bottom of the fifth.
After walking Josh Reddick on four pitches and striking out George Springer, Glasnow’s 76th – and final – pitch of the day was a 98-mph fastball that Altuve hit into the Crawford Boxes in left.
Glasnow, who missed most of the season with a forearm injury, hadn’t thrown more than 66 pitches in a big-league game since May 10.
But that was just the beginning of a nightmare inning for Tampa Bay.
Rookie left-hander Brendan McKay came in and gave up a single and a double to the first two batters he faced. McKay struck out Alvarez for the second out of the inning and was replaced by Chaz Roe.
The Rays’ third pitcher of the inning got Gurriel to hit a pop-up to right field seemingly ending the threat, but second baseman Brandon Lowe and right fielder Austin Meadows miscommunicated and the ball bounced off Lowe’s glove, allowing two more runs to score.
Man of the moment
After walking Meadows to lead off the game, Verlander retired 10 in a row and didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning. Since joining the Astros in 2017, the 36-year-old is 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 61 postseason innings.
Verlander brought his career postseason strikeout total to 175, passing Roger Clemens for third all-time. He now trails only John Smoltz (199) and Andy Pettitte (183)
Xs and Os
How exactly Rays manager Kevin Cash was going to manage the bullpen was a huge question entering this series, particularly with Glasnow and Blake Snell unable to pitch to deep into games.
Glasnow struck out the side in the fourth – after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the third – and Cash opted to stick with him for the ultimately-fatal fifth inning. That decision obviously backfired in the end, but it showed that Tampa’s skipper isn’t afraid of pushing his starters to – and perhaps beyond – their limits in this series.
For Astros manager A.J. Hinch, things were pretty straight-forward. His team wisely took advantage of Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate for the Rays, stealing three bases in Game 1. As the series moves forward, keep an eye on this. With the Mets in the 2015 postseason, d’Arnaud allowed 11 steals without throwing out a single runner.
State of the series
After getting thoroughly Verlandered in the series opener, the Rays get to face Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) in Game 2 on Saturday – a game they desperately need to win. Reigning Cy Young winner Snell goes for Tampa, but he’s only pitched six total innings since July 21 and probably can’t go more than three or four innings.
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