ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.—The Tampa Bay Rays like to do things their own way.
Often unconventional. Occasionally daring. Typically, arduously.
Tuesday, that all came together in a second straight win over the Houston Astros, 4-1, before another large and loud Tropicana Field crowd of 32,178.
And as a result, they’ll be playing again another day — in a winner-take-all game against the Astros on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
Tuesday, they used five relievers and then starter Blake Snell to finish a tense ninth inning in a true bullpen day arrangement as they shut down the potent Astros.
They made the Astros decision to start Cy Young award favorite Justin Verlander on three days rest look like a terribly bad idea.
They dazzled in the field, including a video perfect relay from centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier to shortstop Willy Adames to catcher Travis d’Arnaud in the fourth inning to nail Jose Altuve at the plate.
Even as they lost the first two games of the best-of-five AL division series in Houston, and didn’t look particularly promising in doing do, the Rays expressed a quiet confidence they could compete with the MLB-best Astros.
After the two impressive wins, they’re now at least back to even.
The Rays still have a difficult task, trying to beat the Astros in a third straight game, and having to face their other ace, Gerrit Cole. Tyler Glasnow seems the likely starter for the Rays.
But it’s becoming more manageable.
Of the 82 teams to lose the first two games of a best-of-five series, only 16 got a series back to even at 2-2. But 10 of those won.
Both the Rays and Astros went into Tuesday’s potentially decisive Game 4 of the AL division series with somewhat unusual pitching strategies.
The Rays’ plan worked better.
Rather than use any one pitcher as a starter or even to cover the bulk of the innings, they opted for a bullpen day in the truest sense, with 10 of their 11 pitchers (all but Monday starter Charlie Morton) available for action, including Games 1 and 2 starters Glasnow and Blake Snell, who was warming in the ninth.
And it worked out splendidly.
The tremendous efforts of “starter” Diego Castillo, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson and Colin Poche led to taking a shutout into the eighth. And after Poche allowed a homer to ex-Ray Robinson Chirinos, Emilio Pagan got them through the eighth and into the ninth. When Altuve walked and Alex Bregman singled, the Rays turned to Snell. He struck out lefty Yordan Alvarez and then got Yuli Gurriel to ground out for the final out.
The Astros opted to start ace Verlander on three days’ rest rather than the usual four for the first time in his career, seeking a repeat of his dominating Game 1 performance.
That didn’t work out too well.
Verlander allowed three runs in a 32-pitch first inning on Tuesday and failed to make it through the fourth, knocked out after allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks, throwing 84 pitches in getting 11 outs.
The Rays impressed not only with their swings and their pitches before another loud and energetic Tropicana Field crowd of 32,178.
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In the fourth, they executed a relay play perfectly to kill a potential Astros rally.
Cash gambled a bit in allowing soft-tossing lefty Ryan Yarbrough to open the fourth facing two of the Astros’ toughest right-handed hitters, so he could get to lefty Yordan Alvarez.
Yarbrough came through it OK allowing a single to Altuve and getting Bregman to fly out, but then Alvarez laced a double that bounced just in front of the centre-field wall. Kiermaier, the two-time Gold Glove winner, retrieved the ball and threw the ball to Adames, whose relay to d’Arnaud was on the money.