Somebody had to lose tonight. There is no crying in baseball, and there are no ties.
Two red hot teams, the Astros came in to Tampa having won 17 of their last 20 games, the Rays had a 5 game winning streak. The Astros batters have the highest OPS in baseball over the past month, but the Tampa Bay Rays have the stingiest pitching, with a team ERA over the last week at just 1.31.
They were even better than that tonight, but Lance McCullers Jr. was better still. On a night when he had all his pitches going with command, and his curve had its old snap, the Rays stood in the box tonight mostly baffled. In seven innings the Rays managed only 3 hits, they struck out 7 times, and hit into ground outs 12 times.
Lance fell back in love with his curve tonight, using it 55 times in 101 pitches. He got 17 swinging strikes.
In the meantime, the Astros were not much better. Except on one pitch. For the second time in three games Jake Marisnick provided the key offensive spark with a home run, this one his seventh of the year in the fifth inning. It was the only scoring the Astros would manage. He added a single and a walk to bring his batting average up to .199.
It seemed he would never get above .150 for most of this season, but he has been slugging lately. In the seven games prior to tonight he has been hitting .375 with an OPS of 1.375.
Chris Devenski pitched a scoreless eighth inning for McCullers, but not without some drama. The lead-off batter, Willy Adames, doubled to left. The next batter moved him to third on a successful bunt single. It seemed inevitable that one run at least would score, but Matt Duffy screamed a line drive directly to shortstop Marwin Gonzales. With the runner on first stealing, it was an easy double play on a hit that could have just as likely been a two run double. Devenski got the third out on a hard ground ball to Jose Altuve.
In the highest of high leverage A.J. Hinch gave the ball to Hector Rondon to close the game. He struck out the side, but allowed an infield hit.
The Astros will need to make up the offensive production lost with Carlos Correa on the DL and Yuli Gurriel on paternity leave. Tyler White did his part tonight, going two for three with a walk.
The Stros will need more of that tomorrow. Somehow the Rays, with their “opening pitchers” and dearth of starters are the hottest pitching team in the league right now.
Tomorrow the Astros send Gerrit Cole against Wilmer Font. I don’t really know if Wilmer Font is a starting pitcher or an opening pitcher. Stay tuned. Game time 6:10 CDT.
Box score and videos here.