Defense lifts Rays to 2-0 Series lead

by Gary Shelton on October 13, 2020

in general

Wendle was superb in the infield./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

They got outpitched. They got outhit. So how in the world did the Tampa Bay Rays win their 4-2 game against the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series Monday afternoon.

Well, defense.

That's how.

It's the part of the game that no one seems to talk about. But the Rays have always stressed run prevention, and being able to catch it and throw it was the bright spot in the Rays' latest victory over Houston, a game that put them ahead 2-0 in the series.

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In postseason history, teams leading 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 72 of 85 times (84.7 pct.).

Did you see Manuel Margot's tumbling catch onto the concrete? Or Willy Adames running down line drives? Or Joey Wendle turning into Brooks Robinson? Or Ji-Man Choi digging low throws out the dirt?

Together, those plays helped the Rays' pitchers turn into escape artists in the victory.

Okay, okay. If you're fair, you'd have to admit that Houston's Lance McCullers (a Tampa Jesuit product) was the best pitcher on the mound. And you probably noticed that the Rays managed only four hits on the day (they've had 16 in their last four games). Charlie Morton was effective, but scuffled, and reliever Nick Anderson had one of his shakiest outings.

But the gloves made up for it as the Astros stranded 11 runners (and were one for eight with runners in scoring position).

And if the Rays' infield didn't make you appreciate defense, this probably did. In the first inning, Choi reached first base on a throwing error by Jose Altuve. Immediately after, Margot (nice day, huh?) hit a three-run homer. Mike Zunino later added another homer.

"I’ll take the three-run hoemr, but the catch was outstanding, too," said Rays' manager Kevin Cash. "You have to have the ability to know where you’re at, but the effort to say ‘forget it, I’m going to hit something but I’m going in and hanging onto the ball’ was really really impressive. "

Said Adames: "It was amazing, and it was dangerous. He’s tough. For you to take him out of the game, he’s got to have a broken bone. He was pretty hurt. But he kept saying 'I’m good, I’m good.’ He was bleeding, but I just said 'okay, you're good.”

Morton went another five innings for another post-season victory, but it wasn't smooth. He allowed two hits in the first, two in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth. But the Astros have had trouble getting runners home.

They loaded the bases in the ninth, but Anderson coaxed a double play and a fly to center to earn the save.

Of Morton, Cash said: "I saw really good, and I saw...he lost it for a little while there. Maybe the front side was flying open. It was uncharacteristic of Charlie, but we can’t nit-pick too much. He just threw five scoreless against as good an offense as you're going to see."

Said Morton:  "I didn’t feel like I was fighting myself ... then I did. "

The Rays will try to take a commanding 3-0 Series lead tonight at 8:40 p.m. in San Diego. They will start Ryan Yarbrough on the mound. Houston has not announced its starter.

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