Rays beat Verlander to even Playoff series

by Gary Shelton on October 9, 2019 · 0 comments

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Castillo set the tone by striking out the side in the first./TIM WIRT

WEDNESDAY, 4 a.m.

His greatness is beyond measure. His fastball is beyond the speed of light. His invincibility is  beyond question. 

He is, after all, Mr. Wonderful.

And, against the Tampa Bay Rays, the world expected him to slam the door.

He was Justin Verlander, Lord of the Mound, and he was back to tame the Rays once again, just like he had in the opener of the Astros’ playoff series against the Rays when he allowed only one hit, and no runs, in seven innings of baseball that translated into “what can you do with this?”

Ah, but it’s a funny game, baseball. And the Rays, resilient once again, pushed around Verlander something fierce in a 4-1 victory to tie the series. The

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Pham finds great intensity in the playoffs.//CHUCK MULLER

winner-take-all fifth game is scheduled for Thursday night. Granted, Verlander was pitching on three-days rest, but he lasted only eight outs and gave up four earned runs to the Rays. In the first inning, he gave up three runs, including a home run to Tommy Pham.

The Rays now have 99 wins on the year (regular season and post-season). They are 4-0 in elimination games.

Adames had a homer and a great defensive play./CHUCK MULLER

Around the nation, this game will probably be written as Houston rushing Verlander back into the lineup. But the Rays’ ability to take advantage of what they had seen earlier in the series was part of it.

“I think the familiarity helps,” said Rays’ manager Kevin Cash on the team’s ability to hit Verlander. “He’s still the best. There’s no denying that. But four days, five days, whatever it was later, some of those same pitches maybe replayed a little big and we were able to have some quality at-bats and hit some balls hard.”

Garcia had four hits for the Rays./TIM WIRT

Even with short rest, Verlander was a staggering favorite over Rays’ opener Diego Castillo, who had his struggles through the regular season. But Castillo struck out in the side in  the first, and he set the pace for a six-pitcher bullpen that held the Astros to only one run.

“I mean, he's been one of our best here over the last six, eight weeks,” Cash said. “And it was really impressive for a young pitcher to go out in that environment. We were just talking about it before I came in here. Set the tone and get in the strike zone really quick. Diego, his stuff is tremendous, kind of harnessing it in the strike zone. That's the only concern you have, is he going to be able to find it.

”Our fans were amazing. That can pump you up and sometimes work against you, get you over pumped. But Diego kind of controlled the moment.”

Snell got the save for the Rays./TIM WIRT

It is obvious that the Rays play better with a lead. So much so that you didn’t notice how many chances the Rays squandered. They were just two-for-13 with runners in scoring position. But the pitching was so good you didn’t notice.

“We knew going in that we were going to try to get the ideal match-ups for everybody,” Cash said. “We weren't going to let anybody face the same pitcher twice. But the guys, the pitchers were just unbelievable, how they executed pitches. It just kind of laid into the next reliever that came into the ball game.”

The Rays’ defense mattered, too, especially a fourth-inning relay where Kevin Kiermaier caught Yordan Alvarez’s ball off the wall, threw to shortstop Willy Adames, who in turn through to catcher Travis d’Arnaud who tagged out Jose Altuve for the putout.

Cash has seen his team bounce back for two wins at home./JEFFREY S. KING

“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” Cash said. “I mean, you cannot execute or relay any better than that, from KK to Willy, T.D.'s tag. You're not talking about a catcher running around or some big lumbering guy, it's Jose Altuve. Everything had to be perfect, and it was. It was a bang-bang play. That's where you really see Willy's arm. We know KK's arm. Willy's arm just had to show up. Not many shortstops can put it on a dime like he just did.”

Said Adames: “I was excited. That’s a play I always want to make. I always want to try to make the throw. We started with that throw that KK threw to me, and you know, we were able to get Altuve out, who’s pretty fast. The team got fired up after that play.”

Choi walked three times against Houston./CHUCK MULLER

Tommy Pham liked the play, too.

“Plays like that are contagious,” he said. “It usually leads to more great plays. Just like hitting.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite as pretty to Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch.

“They did a good job,” Hinch said. “Made two perfect throws. The ball kicked up off the center field wall to Kiermaier’s chest, who throw a bullet to Adames, who throws a better throw from shortstop shortstop from shallow center field and  Jose is out. Obviously, we’re in a results-oriented business, so it’s a tough way to give up an out.”

After Pham’s first-inning homer, D’Arnaud singled in Ji-Man Choi and Joey Wendle doubled in Avi Garcia.

Anderson was sharp in relief./CHUCK MULLER

In the fourth, Adames hit a home run.

The Rays continually kept the Astros off-balance until Robinson Chirinos homered in the eighth.

The Rays, interestingly, got their final two outs from Blake Snell, who got a strikeout and a grounder to record the save.

“We didn't draw it up that way,” Cash said. “As soon as Alvarez came up with a chance to tie the game, felt that that was our best matchup. We were fairly confident that Blake was going to be pretty amped up. He was. He got in the zone. We had a decision whether, you know, we wanted him after he got Alvarez to strike out, whether we wanted to go to the right-hander for Gurriel. Given the way Blake looked in the three or four pitches he threw to Alvarez, it would be really tough to take him out.”

For the Rays, Avi Garcia had four hits and Pham had three.

“He’s dialed in,” Cash said. “Whatever intensity level that he gets to in the regular season, he’s got another one that he can get to in the postseason. I got to be careful with what I say to him sometimes during the game because I don't want him to pinch my neck."

The Rays travel to Houston today for Thursday night’s game at Minute Maid Park. The game is scheduled to start at 7:07 p.m. Gerrit Cole will oppose the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow on the mound.

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