The Astros have been pure magic through their first six games of the post-season. Tonight, the pixie dust poured down on the the Rays, and missed the Stros. For the Astros it was a game of missed opportunities, for the Rays, a game of big plays at just the right time.
The Astros night started with great promise in the top of the first inning when Jose Altuve flashed his home run swing for the third time this post-season, sending a solo shot deep to left. He now has more ALCS homers than any other second baseman in history.
Meanwhile, Framber Valdez dominated the Rays, striking out his first four Rays and keeping them off the board through three innings. He got a little help in the third when Kevin Kiermaier, who had just doubled, was Macheted trying to steal third.
But in the fourth, the rookie terror from Cuba, Randy Arozarena, continued his post-season tear, blasting a hanging sinker opposite field to deep right field to tally the Rays’ first run. This was his fourth homer in this, his first post-season.
The Rays scrapped their way to another run in the fifth, when Valdez walked the lead-off runner, Willy Adames, who eventually advanced to third. With two outs the Rays catcher Mike Zunino poked an end-of-the-bat single just past the outstretched Altuve to put the Rays up 2-1.
Valdez would pitch a scoreless sixth before relinquishing the mound to Blake Taylor. Valdez was superb yet again, allowing only four hits, inducing eight K’s, but walking four, an old bugaboo. One of those walks ended in the run that made him the hard-luck losing pitcher.
The Astros blew a couple of prime opportunities. In the fourth inning they appeared to have starter Blake Snell on the ropes. With runners on first and second and no outs, Kyle Tucker smoked a 95 mph line drive right up the middle but right at shortstop Adames, who tagged second just ahead of Alex Bregman’s return for an unassisted double play.
Still, the Astros managed to load the bases with two outs for catcher Martin Maldonado, but unlike the Rays’ catcher, Maldonado was unable to come through with two outs, flying out to leave the score tied.
Their best missed opportunity came in the eighth. Rays reliever Aaron Loup, who hadn’t pitched since September 30th, hit leadoff hitter Michael Brantley with his first pitch. After striking out Alex Bregman, Loup then walked Carlos Correa, bringing up Kyle Tucker. Tucker came through, smoking a line drive to left field, but too hard hit to score the runner on second.
This bought up the slumping Yuli Gurriel. Astros hopes that this was the time for Gurriel to find his stroke were dashed, as he ground into an easy inning-ending double play, stranding three runners with one out.
The Astros rookie bullpen came through yet again, particularly Enoli Paredes. In the seventh, after Blake Taylor placed runners on first and second with one out, Paredes came in and struck out the heart of the Rays order, Arozarena and Brandon Lowe. Blake Raley worked out of trouble to hold the Rays in the eighth.
The Astros had another opportunity in the ninth inning after pinch hitter Josh Reddick singled with one out. George Springer moved pinch runner Myles Straw to second with a fielder’s choice grounder, but ace Rays closer Diego Castillo secured the save with a strikeout of Jose Altuve, who had two hits and the only Astros RBI, but went down whiffing on a wicked Castillo slider to end the game.
The Astros were only two for eight with runners in scoring position and unfortunately, neither of those hits produced runs. They left 10 runners on base. The Astros outhit the Rays 9-6, but could only muster one run from those nine hits
This was the kind of game the Astros need to win if they want to advance to the World Series. They had their best starter dealing while the Rays’ best starter was struggling, allowing eight baserunners in five innings.
Meanwhile, the Astros exposed three of their better bullpen arms. Of course, the Rays used four, and probably won’t have their shutdown closer, Diego Castillo, available tomorrow. (He pitched two innings Friday as well) But depth of bullpen is the main strength of the Rays, and the main weakness of the Astros, so the longer this series goes, the more this Astros weakness is likely to factor in.
Tomorrow is another day. Obviously, the bats have to wake up, especially in clutch situations.
Box Score and videos HERE
Game time tomorrow, 3:07 CDT.