Rays show their fight with win over Astros

by Gary Shelton on October 8, 2019 · 0 comments

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Morton won another elimination game for the Rays./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Perhaps you doubted their bats.

Perhaps, even with Charlie Morton on the mound, you doubted their pitching.

Perhaps you doubted how much of the baseball season remained.

But would you ever doubt their fight? After watching this Tampa Bay Rays team for a full season, plus, would you ever doubt the resiliency in their souls" Would you ever question that they would go down swinging?

Team Bounceback did it one more time Monday. Trailing 2-0 in their American League Playoffs to a powerful Houston team, the Rays snapped back to win a 10-3 victory and keep their season alive.

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Kiermaier had four RBI on Wednesday./CHUCK MULLER

The Rays remain in a deep hole, having to win two in a row, including today's game against Justin Verlander. But for a day, they reminded their fans (the largest crowd since 2016) what made them special.

"We have fight each and every day since opening day this season," said Kevin Kiermaier, whose three run homer in the second inning turned a bad start around. There's no quit in these guys. You know, just what we've done especially last two or three weeks, some of the wins that we've had just pulled them out of nowhere. Just shows you the character in our clubhouse from top to bottom, and that's just the way it's been all year.

"I knew we were capable of being in this position, having success here as well. Tough first two games. Verlander and Cole were dominant. We're capable of doing what we did today. We have the talent to do just that, have an offensive outburst, and we know we're going to have a tough test again tomorrow.

"But anything can happen in between those white lines, and I don't want anyone to tell me or any of my other teammates that you don't have a shot at this. We know what Houston's capable of, Verlander, his resume and all that. At the end of the day, we're out there competing, trying to win a ball game each and every day. We don't care who's on the mound. We've got some studs on this team as well."

It was the 70th time this season the Rays have won when scoring five or more runs. They've won 20 games in their final at-bat.

The Rays are 16-2 at home in their last 18 games and 22-7 in their last 29.

This one got off to a rocky start. Jose Altuve homered in the first inning off of Charlie Morton, and Morton threw 31 pitches in the first. But Kiermaier hit a 2-1 pitch out with two runners on to give the Rays a 3-1 lead. Tampa Bay scored six runs off of Zack Greinke in 3 2/3 innings.

Morton, meanwhile, eventually found the groove that allowed him to win another elimination game. He's started four such games, and he's 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA.

"I wasn't fazed at all," Kiermaier said of Morton's rough start."I know what Charlie is capable of. I don't think he was fazed either. It's probably definitely not what he imagined or have his pitch count get up there early. But he still gave us five strong innings, and, you know, that's the way he's been all year. And we don't want anyone else on the mound in that situation, this type of game, what's at stake and whatnot.

"Charlie's been our horse all year, and he's pitched in the big moments throughout his whole career, and once again today, elimination game, just it's hard to beat him. And he went out there and pitched great again, once again."

The Rays will open today's game against Verlander with Diego Castillo.

Homers led the way for the Rays. Ji-Man Choi hit a solo shot in the third, Brandon Lowe hit a solo shot in the fourth and Willy Adames hit one in the sixth.

" I mean, after the first inning, 40-some pitches, I think. After the second inning, it was 60 something pitches," Morton said. "So that homer by KK, I mean, that was huge because it bought us a little bit of wiggle room with them. You can't keep those guys down long. But, you know, it kind of frees you up a little bit. We kept tacking on. I was able to get into a little bit of a better spot there the last few innings. So yeah, I mean, ideally, that first inning doesn't go like that.

"I mean, you can afford every now and then to give up a run, right? But the pitch total there in that first inning was pretty frustrating, especially to look back on that. So I'm glad it worked out.

After their bats were silenced by Verlander and then Gerrit Cole in the first two games, this was an improvement. The Rays had 12 hits.

"It's what we do," said shortstop Willy Adames. "We fight. We're a small market team, but we battle."

Besides the home runs, the Rays scored when Austin Meadows doubled in Matt Duffy, when Tommy Pham singled in Meadows and when Travis d'Arnaud hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Avi Garcia.

'It's definitely been a little bit longer than I'd hoped for,' said Kiermaier, who has been with the Rays since their last playoff appearance in 2013. "At the same time, being out there and being in that kind of environment here at the field that has been home for me ever since Day 1, it's hard to beat that feeling. Seeing everyone with the towels and every fan through every pitch, it was insane. That's something that I've never experienced before, being out on the field when I was here in 2013, I was watching the game from the clubhouse. I wasn't on the roster.

"Being out there with the guys we've been going to work with each and every day since spring training, great feeling to be part of, and I can't wait to get back out there again (Tuesday) night."

It will be hard for the Rays, who managed only one hit in seven innings against Verlander. But a long shot is still a shot, right?

"We're going to have to sit here and work on a game plan from an individual standpoint when you talk about position players," Kiermaier said. "I'm going to sit here and watch how he threw to me the other day and how he's attacking me. I know all the other guys will do the same thing. It's nice to face the guy, even though Verlander is really good, but we just faced him a couple days ago. Short day's rest are not -- he'll be ready to go. He'll bring his A-game, but we'll plan on doing the same thing."

Said Rays' manager Kevin Cash: "He's tough. We've got to enjoy what we accomplished today and certainly hope we can have better at-bats, production, get something going against him. We'll worry about that tomorrow. Right now, the guys are pretty pumped about what they just did tonight."

The Rays will play the Astros at 7:07 p.m. tonight at Tropicana Field.

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