The Astros closed out what has been an otherwise-stellar ten-game homestand with a drawn-out, back-and-forth 9-8 loss to the Rays that was full of mistakes and missed opportunities.
Following wins of 15-1 and 8-6, the Astros turned to Zack Greinke in his fifth start as an Astro, making it the first occasion of the Astros getting a series with starts from the vaunted Verlander-Cole-Greinke trio. And things were off to what seemed to be a solid start in the first, with Greinke picking up two Ks in a ten-pitch inning and Jose Altuve notching his MLB-leading 64th hit since the All-Star Break off of opener Andrew Kittredge. No scoring came of it, but it’s still encouraging.
Things hit a slight hiccup next inning, though, when Greinke allowed a run on a pair of singles sandwiched around a balk. In what was going to be something of a recurring theme, the Astros returned fire with a pair of walks followed by a Robinson Chirinos double to tie things back up. In what also became a recurring theme, though, it wound up being just a one-run inning with some stranded runners; on the whole, Houston scored in seven of nine innings, but only managed multiple runs in one of those (and it was in perhaps the most improbably of those innings, but more on that in a moment).
And so it went. Austin Meadows struck back in the next inning with a solo homer, but George Springer immediately followed it up with one of his own. Travis d’Arnaud hit a two run home run in the fourth, but the Astros clawed back one of those on walks to Yuli Gurriel Abraham Toro, a misplay on a Josh Reddick grounder by the pitcher that loaded the bases, and a walk to George Springer. Unfortunately, Altuve couldn’t manage another hit yet and left them loaded.
After a rare scoreless top-half of the fifth, the Astros finally claimed the lead on an inning that looked like an extreme version of the last one. Michael Brantley, Yordan Álvarez, Toro, Chirinos, and Reddick all walked, marking the Astros’ only multi-run inning. Unfortunately, the Rays brought in star deadline acquisition Nick Anderson (already their fifth pitcher of the day, and with nearly twice as many pitches collectively as Greinke had by himself) to shut down Springer with two outs to leave the bases loaded, and just like that, the Astros had recorded two runs in an inning where no one actually managed a hit.
Greinke lost his eligibility for the win the next half-inning when he was pulled with two outs after walking his first batter of the game and allowing him to advance on a groundout. But Joe Smith was unable to shut things down cleanly, as d’Arnaud struck again to tie things up again before getting the third out. The Astros immediately struck back with an Altuve leadoff homer to retake the lead in the bottom half; it marked both the twenty-fifth dinger of the year for Jose, a career high, and the first run Anderson has allowed since he was sent across the swamps of Florida at the trade deadline.
Chris Devenski’s appearance in the top of the seventh was one of the major “wheels-fall-off” moments of the game, when he got only one out while allowing singles to Matt Duffy and Tommy Pham and doubles to Meadows and Ji-Man Choi (the two biggest thorns in the Astros side this game, after d’Arnaud). Hector Rondon came in two clean things up without incident, but those three runs put the Rays back on top for good. The Astros looked like they might strike back in the bottom half, with Reddick singling in a run with one out following a walk and an error, but once again, the inning ended with two stranded.
The last two innings were comparatively quiet. The Rays picked up one in the eighth off of Cy Sneed, who came in to close things down, on an Meadows groundout. The Astros did nothing of note in the eighth outside of an Alex Bregman single. Things looked promising in the ninth, though, with Abraham Toro leading things off with his first career home run. The young third baseman wound up the MVP of the game for Houston, going 1-2 with that homer on the day, but with three walks and a pair of runs.
It looked like the tide might be turning after Robinson Chirinos struck out when Reddick worked a full-count walk, but unfortunately, the home plate umpire discovered a few new inches at the bottom of the strike zone and called him out instead before tossing him from the game with two outs. George looked like he might take things back with a homer to the Crawford Boxes, but it died on the warning track and that was that.
In the end, it was a messy slog of a game that lasted over four hours and featured twelve pitchers (with the seven on the Rays combining for over 200 pitches alone). The Rays somehow used up all of their mound visits and walked ten Astros, but came away with the win. Greinke posted his highest strikeout total since joining the team (eight) while walking only one, but with two home runs in the six hits allowed. And while the Astros patience looked like it might pay off in the end, the lack of hits did come back to bite them, as Tampa outhit them 14-8 and went 6-14 with runners in scoring position to the Astros’ 2-11.
As frustrating as the game was, though, this homestand has still been a success for the Astros, and you can never win them all. The Astros will try again tomorrow in Toronto, with Wade Miley squaring off against Trent Thornton at 6:07 Central Time. Houston is 87-48 on the year, one game behind the Yankees and Dodgers for best record in the Majors and on top of the AL West by 9.0 games.