The Tampa Bay Rays headed to Tropicana Field with their backs against the dome, but after another convincing victory Tuesday, this series is going back to Houston for one final game.
Tampa Bay got to Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander early, while also proving that it’s possible to win with an opener in the postseason. They won 4-1 on Tuesday night in Game 4 of the American League Division Series.
The Rays jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead against Verlander on a Tommy Pham homer and RBI hits from Travis d’Arnaud and Joey Wendle. After throwing seven scoreless innings in the Astros’ 6-2 victory in Game 1 on Friday, Verlander started on three days’ rest for the first time in his 15-year career. He was charged with four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings.
The Rays have been the authority on the opener in the past two seasons. The strategy paid off in Game 4 and the Astros were limited to six hits by six different Rays pitchers.
Ryan Yarbrough, who last pitched Saturday, worked two innings in relief of Diego Castillo. They kept Houston scoreless with the aid of some incredible defense. Nick Anderson yielded a hit and struck out a pair over 2 1/3 scoreless innings in his third appearance of the postseason. Colin Poche, pitching for the second day in a row, got five outs before being chased by Robinson Chirinos’ solo shot in the eighth.
Emilio Pagan pitched the Rays into an uncomfortable spot in the ninth inning, exiting with runners at the corners and one out. Blake Snell, the Game 2 starter who only threw 9 1/3 innings since July 21, cleaned up the mess with a strikeout of Yordan Alvarez and a Yuli Gurriel grounder to end the game.
Now this series — thought to be an easy Astros victory — is going to be a win-or-go-home Game 5.
WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE
Willy Adames: In addition to his lead-off homer against Verlander in the fourth, Adames helped to keep a run off the board with a picture-perfect relay throw in the fourth.
Tommy Pham: His solo shot was the first of his three hits in the contest, boosting his postseason average to .438 in 20 at-bats. Pham also homered in the wild-card game against Oakland, as did Avisail Garcia, who contributed four hits in Game 4.
Diego Castillo: In his third postseason appearance, Castillo got the start for the Rays, striking out three and allowing a hit on 29 pitches in 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He also recorded five outs, on eight fewer pitches, in Saturday’s Game 2. Castillo hasn’t allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings in October.
This one is a toss-up between the Adames relay throw in the fourth and the Rays’ rally against Verlander in the first.
Alvarez drilled a double off Yarbrough to center where Kevin Kiermaier quickly got a relay throw to Adames, who then threw a strike to the plate to nab Jose Altuve. Altuve roped a base hit to left to start the inning, and the Astros looked like they might start to climb out of their early hole.
WHAT THEY’LL BE TALKING ABOUT
Is this Rays resurgence for real? Tampa Bay overcame Verlander, but Gerrit Cole at full strength presents a different challenge. Zack Greinke’s inability to eat up innings in Game 3 likely contributed to the Astros decision to go to Verlander on short rest. The good news for Houston is that they got a great view of “the opener” working in the postseason. This is also the only series in which the home team has won every game. Why would the Rays ever want to leave Tropicana Field?
The New York Yankees await in the ALCS for the conclusion of this series, which will be decided in Game 5 at Minute Maid Park on Thursday at 7:07 p.m. ET. The series finale will feature a pair of former Pittsburgh Pirates in Cole, who is looking to build on his historic 15-strikeout performance, against the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow, who took the loss against Verlander in Game 1 last Friday.
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