Most people expected the Tampa Bay Rays were dead in the water after falling behind 0-2 in their American League Division Series with the Houston Astros. Everybody, it turned out, except the Rays.
The Rays pounded the Astros in Game 3 on Monday to stay alive in the series, hitting four homers and winning 10-3. The Rays rebounded from a first-inning homer by Jose Altuve to score eight runs in the second, third and fourth innings. They tacked on two more runs later and hope the momentum rolls into Game 4 on Tuesday, in which they can even the series.
We heard so much about the vaunted Astros pitching trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke. The first two shut down the Rays in convincing fashion, but Greinke was vulnerable Monday. The Rays chased him from the game in the fourth inning after he’d allowed six runs on five hits.
There was a three-run Kevin Kiermaier homer in the second inning that changed the momentum of the game, then Ji-Man Choi homered in the third and Brandon Lowe went deep in the fourth. The Rays started piling on when Austin Meadows hit a two-run double over George Springer’s head in centerfield.
It seemed more like the Rays’ win over the A’s in the wild-card game than it did the first two games of this series. The Rays were launching the ball out of the park against the A’s and were doing so again Monday. Home runs aren’t particularly their game. They hit fewer of them than any team in the postseason, but they’re certainly better than all the strikeouts the Rays were racking up in Games 1 and 2 against the Astros.
The Rays still have an immense challenge ahead, as there’s no path out of the ALDS that doesn’t including beating Verlander and Cole — and winning a game in Houston. But in Game 3, this homer-happy Rays bunch proved they weren’t just going to get rolled by the Astros.
WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE
• Charlie Morton: There’s a lot to say about the Rays’ offense, but Charlie Morton deserves plenty of love here. The Rays starter, who came over from these same Astros as a free agent, delivered the steady performance Tampa Bay needed. After the first-inning homer to Altuve, a walk to Bregman and an error, Morton escaped and kept the Astros off the board for five innings. He struck out nine and allowed only two more hits.
• Kevin Kiermaier: The Rays’ offensive explosion was a team effort. Everybody was hitting, but the one that got them going was Kiermaier’s second-inning homer. It changed the tone of the game, giving the Rays their first lead of the series and showing the Astros this game wouldn’t be like the previous two.
• Willy Adames: The Rays slick shortstop isn’t an offense-first guy, but he was in the thick of the action in Game 3. He had a big double in the second inning when the Astros started to reel. He walked and scored in the fourth and then homered in the sixth. It was great production for the Rays out of their No. 9 spot.
Keirmaier’s homer was, again, very important here — awaking both the lineup and the fans inside The Trop. Here’s the homer, and watch, it even came with a celebratory hop.
WHAT THEY'LL BE TALKING ABOUT
The Astros’ big three starters aren’t infallible. Sure, Verlander and Cole looked great, but adding Greinke to the mix is what made this Astros team look like it was on another level. If Greinke is just decent, it’s going to make things a little tougher for this Astros team no matter what comes next.
Now that the Rays have survived, they have to do it again Tuesday. They’ll host Game 4 at 4:15 p.m. ET. The Astros are sending Justin Verlander to the mound in Game 4 on short rest. He shut down the Rays in Game 1, pitching seven scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out eight. The Rays will start reliever Diego Castillo as their “opener” and use their potent relief corps after that. Castillo appeared in 65 games this season — six as a starter and 18 that he finished.
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