Rays rebound sends Series back to Houston

Two players enjoy camaraderie as the Rays' record recovers.

Yahoo Sports

Two players enjoy camaraderie as the Rays' record recovers.

David Fackson, Staff Writer

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The Rays were on the plane back to St.Petersburg, down 2-0 in the ALDS against the heavily favored Houston Astros. They had run into the buzz saw of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the top 2 pitchers in A.L. Cy Young voting, in Games 1 and 2. The Rays’ chances were bleak coming into the series but now they were at an all-time low. Most sports channels such as FS1 and MLB Network already had written off the Rays, and with New York up 2-0 in their series, they were preparing for an Astros v Yankees ALCS. However, baseball is rarely that simple, just ask the 2011 Red Sox who were up 10 games in September with 28 games remaining and managed to miss the playoffs, ironically to these same Rays. 

“We got nothing to lose,” Willy Adames said after Game 2 loss by the score of 3-1, where Gerrit Cole struck out 15 in 7.2 innings. Heading into Game 3, that mantra showed as the Rays looked to be playing much looser than the first 2 games. They played better defense, committing only 1 error between Games 3 and 4, didn’t chase as many bad pitches and most importantly, hit with runners in scoring position which led to a 10 run outburst and a 10-3 win in Game 3, cutting the series lead to 2-1. 

The Houston starter Zack Greinke struggled, not making it out of the 4th while giving up 6 runs including a 3 run blast by Kevin Kiermaier, and the bullpen didn’t do much better. Hector Rondon and Wade Miley gave up 4 runs over 2.2 innings to give the Rays a commanding 10-3 lead they would not relinquish.

The Rays, who were not a power hitting team in the regular season, finishing in the bottom 3rd for homeruns in Major League Baseball, rode the gopher ball to victory as Kiermaier, Adames, Choi, and Brandon Lowe all went deep, making sure to send the raucous 32,000 plus at Tropicana Field home happy. 

Now the series was cut to 2-1 but with Verlander looming in Game 4, the celebration from Game 3 turned into determination to win Game 4. Verlander, for the 1st time in his career, was pitching on the three days rest and he did not look sharp early, giving up a solo homerun to Tommy Pham, igniting the crowd who was ear-deafening loud, and remained that way for the remainder of the game.

After the homerun, Travis d’Arnaud snuck a ground ball through the hole to score Choi, followed by a RBI double from Joey Wendle to put up three in the 1st against a future Hall of Famer in Justin Verlander, who had shut them down just four days earlier. Suddenly the Rays were in the driver’s seat to send the series back to Houston, and since it was a bullpen day, the Rays needed the bullpen to hold the Astros, who had been dominant in the 2nd half led by power arms like Emilio Pagan, Diego Castillo, and trade deadline pick-up Nick Anderson, who pitched to the tune of a 2.11 ERA with the Rays. 

After the offense added another run on a Willy Adames solo blast and the bullpen put up 8 dominant innings it was looking like game was a lock with Tampa Bay up 4-1 after 8. However, Emilio Pagan struggled, giving up back to back singles after getting the 1st out. Kevin Cash then proceeded to make an out of the box move.

Needing two more outs to push the series to Game 5 he put in reigning Cy Young award winner Blake Snell to get the save. With runners on 1st and 3rd with one out, everyone on their feet, Snell broke out a nasty curve to finish off Yordan Alvarez on 3 pitches. Next was Yuli Gurriel, who on the 1st pitch hit a rocket up the middle. Luckily, because of the shift, Joey Wendle was right there, made the play, and the Rays had done what most experts and fans thought was impossible, they had forced a Game 5.

Suddenly, after being up 2-0, Houston was now facing elimination. With one more win, Tampa Bay could “shock some people” as Kevin Cash put it and turn October on its head. Kevin Kiermaier put it best: “We ain’t done yet, we ain’t yet.”