It started as a pitchers’ duel, but it didn’t end that way. The Houston Astros have taken a 1-0 lead in the American League Division Series, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2. Justin Verlander, every bit an ace at 36, took a no-hitter into the 5th inning and allowed just one hit and 3 walks over 7 innings. He became just the fifth pitcher to throw 7-plus innings with zero runs and one hit or fewer while striking out 8 in a playoff start. (This exclusive club also includes Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Tom Glavine.)
It was Verlander’s 14th playoff win, and according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, that’s more than any pitcher since his debut in 2005. Verlander has a playoff reputation, and with Friday’s gem it only grew more impressive and fearsome.
The Rays tried and failed to break through against Verlander — they got their second hit of the game in the 8th, only after he’d departed — but through four innings, starter Tyler Glasnow threw pitches with a closer’s speed and kept the Astros off the board. Then in the 5th, things fell apart. Glasnow walked Josh Reddick to lead off, and then Jose Altuve hammered a two-run home run to break the scoreless tie. That chased Glasnow from the game, but it didn’t get really out of hand until a pop-up caromed off of Brandon Lowe’s glove, leading to two more runs crossing the plate.
It was a heartbreaking error, and the Rays never fully recovered. They showed some fight in the 8th, scoring two runs after Verlander had left the game, but by then the Astros were fully in the driver’s seat. Roberto Osuna closed out the 9th and the Astros nabbed a 1-0 series lead.
WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE
Justin Verlander: Verlander is an ace, so he did what aces do: he held the Rays to one hit through five innings until the Astros hitters could figure out Glasnow. And when they finally broke through against the Rays, he never let up and pitched two more scoreless innings.
Jose Altuve: He broke the scoreless tie in the fifth inning with a two-run home run, after popping out and flying out in his first two at-bats. He reminded everyone that despite a few injuries this year, he’s still a generational hitter — not that anyone needed to be reminded.
Tyler Glasnow: The Rays’ starter came out throwing fire, and despite allowing four hits and three runs in 4.1 innings, not a single run crossed the plate until Altuve’s homer in the fifth. He gave the Rays all the time he could to get to Verlander before the Astros got to him. Glasnow’s first-ever playoff start didn’t go the way he wanted it to, but his raw talent can’t be denied.
Altuve’s two-run jack in the 5th broke the scoreless tie and ignited the crowd.
WHAT THEY’LL BE TALKING ABOUT
After looking so strong against the Oakland Athletics in the wild-card play-in game on Wednesday, the Rays looked entirely overmatched against the Astros. They flailed at the plate, not getting any meaningful offense until they were down by six runs in the 8th, and played some shaky defense. The Astros, on the other hand, looked unstoppable — even when they were struggling to score against Glasnow. It’s just one game of a five-game series, but do the Rays have a chance? Can they, or any team, stop the Astros?
Game 2 is Saturday night at 9:07 ET, and it’s poised to be another pitchers’ duel. The Astros’ Gerrit Cole, who’s about to be the most coveted free agent pitcher this winter, is facing off against the Rays’ Blake Snell, who won the 2018 AL Cy Young award. The Rays will need a win to keep things even — and they’ll need more offense to even compete.
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