With the Astros facing a must-win game, Jose Urquidy seemed like the right man to call on. He has been fantastic at the outset of his postseason career, allowing just six runs over 18.2 innings, and four of the tallies came in last week’s start against the Oakland A’s at Dodger Stadium where the mascots across baseball could have put on a home run derby.
After dropping two cruel, unlucky contests to start the 2020 American League Championship Series, it appeared briefly fortunes might be turning. Houston led Game 3 by a score of 1-0 after five innings, and although tenuous, there was reason for optimism that Urquidy would be able to turn things over to a resurgent bullpen.
That...didn’t happen. The “visiting” Tampa Bay Rays scrapped, clawed and pestered their way to a five-run sixth inning that was the difference in the ballgame, a 5-2 victory that put the Astros in a 3-0 ALCS hole. Houston has yet to win at Petco Park in six tries during this pandemic-altered campaign.
Urquidy was brilliant for most of the night, beginning his outing by authoring five shutout frames of four-hit ball and escaping a pair of major jams. But in the sixth, Randy Arozarena led off with a base hit, the first time in 10 innings Tampa Bay put their leadoff batter on. Brandon Lowe then hit a ground ball to second, but Jose Altuve threw the ball into left field in an attempt to start a double play. It was Altuve’s third error in the last two contests, and Urquidy was replaced by Enoli Paredes.
Cover your eyes, Astros fans, nothing but utter frustration here. Paredes jumped ahead of Yandy Diaz 1-2 but gave up a single to load the bases. Desperately needing a punchout, he fired two quick strikes to Joey Wendle, who then flipped one inside the bag at third for a go-ahead, two-run single.
But wait. This is where it gets REALLY bad for Houston.
After recording the first out of the inning, Paredes plunked Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames on consecutive pitches, the latter bringing in a run and ending the evening for the right-hander. Enter Brooks Raley, and Rays skipper Kevin Cash made a counter move, pinch-hitting Hunter Renfroe for Michael Perez. Renfroe blooped a fly ball down the right-field line that Kyle Tucker had a zero percent chance to get to, and the ex-Padre Renfroe wound up with a two-run double, making it 5-1 in favor of Tampa Bay. Raley finally got out of the frame by fanning Brandon Lowe with the sacks once again juiced, but the damage was more than done.
For the third night in a row, the Astros teased the possibility of a dramatic comeback.
After the Rays took the game by the throat in the sixth, Houston showed some fight in the bottom half when Michael Brantley led off with his third playoff homer to cut the deficit to 5-2. George Springer then lined a ball sharply to right with a runner on in the seventh, but Renfroe made a superb diving grab on an all-or-nothing effort.
Altuve and Brantley opened the eighth inning with singles, then Carlos Correa reached on a one-out infield hit to put a runner on each base. Cash brought in southpaw Aaron Loup as his third hurler of the frame, a favorable matchup for Kyle Tucker as he singled against him Sunday and Monday. This time, Tucker blooped a ball to short right, where Renfroe came up with another gem, a sliding grab. No runners were able to tag as Renfroe popped up incredibly fast. Loup then coaxed Yuli Gurriel to ground out, escaping the jam up 5-2.
There was more drama in the ninth with Diego Castillo on the mound. Abraham Toro worked a walk in his first postseason plate appearance, then Springer took four out of the strike zone to once again bring the tying run to the plate. Altuve was rung up on a close 2-2 check swing, then Brantley flied out lazily to center, maring the third straight game that ended with the tying or go-ahead run at the plate for the Astros.
For the second time in three nights, Altuve provided a spark by belting a one-out solo homer in the first inning. This time, he took a 1-1 curve from Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough and lined it just over the left-field wall to give Houston the lead. The second baseman has gone deep in four of his last five games dating back to last week’s division series against Oakland.
Urquidy showed the poise of a 32-year-old veteran in the second. Tampa Bay loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a free pass, but Urquidy fanned Michael Perez on a gorgeous changeup to preserve the advantage. A one-out double by Arozarena in the third proved no problem for the right-hander, who retired the final two batters and Arozarena was left on third base.
The theme of this series to date remained true in the bottom of the third. Yarbrough was wild, walking Altuve and plunking Alex Bregman, but Correa’s sinking liner held up just long enough for Kevin Kiermaier to make another incredible diving grab. It marked yet another rally that came up short for the Astros despite a well-struck ball, after over a dozen outs were recorded on balls that were marked as hard-hit in Game 2.
In order to claim their third pennant in four years, the Astros will have to pull off what only one team in baseball history has done: rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. That was the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and Houston will try and start their improbable quest Wednesday at 7:40 p.m. CT.
Although the Astros can complain about luck, positively do not overlook the school the Rays are putting on about how to play defense. They have shown the world what proper baseball fundamentals look like.
Zack Greinke will make his second postseason start for the Astros opposite Tyler Glasnow, who shut down the Yankees twice in four days in the previous round.
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