It was a raucous crowd of over 32,000 at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, and the Astros bats remained silent.
The stage was set. Astros ace Justin Verlander took the mound on three days rest, hoping to clinch a date with the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. However, it didn’t go necessarily as planned.
The Rays jumped on Verlander early in the first with a Tommy Pham home run to left-center, just clearing the wall. Travis d’Arnaud then singled to Michael Brantley scoring Ji-Man Choi. Avisail Garcia moved to second and was brought in by Joey Wendle who cracked a double to right field. It was 3-0 early, and Verlander never really got a feel for the mound.
Fast forward to the fourth inning and the Astros looked like they might be in business. Jose Altuve singled with one out, and that brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate who cracked a double to the wall in right-center. Altuve flew around the bases, got the signal from Gary Pettis to go home, but the relay from center-fielder Kevin Kiermaier to Willy Adames to the catcher d’Arnaud was absolutely perfect and nabbed a speedy Altuve in time.
What would have been two runners on and one out for Yuli Gurriel against the right-handed pitcher, who he had a phenomenal season against, turns into a two-out situation and with only one runner on, and the Astros failed to capitalize. The sending of Jose Altuve wasn’t a bad decision. The relay was just on the money, well-executed as it should be, and Altuve was just not fast enough to beat the throw home. The score remained 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth.
What they say about baseball is true. When you fail to capitalize in one-half inning, more often than not, the other team will do something in the next half-inning, and that’s exactly what happened. Leading off the bottom of the fourth inning, Willy Adames on a 1-1 pitch hammers a slider left over the middle of the plate out of the yard for a solo home run, and it was 4-0 Rays, and that was all they needed.
The Robinson Chirinos tacked on a solo home run of his own in the top of the 8th inning making it 4-1, and the Astros threatened in the top of the 9th inning putting on Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but once again failed to capitalize. Yuli Gurriel hit a sharp hopper up the middle, but the shift was on, and the Rays won game four by a final of 4-1.
Justin Verlander pitched on three days rest and frankly was not sharp. A lot of pitches were left in the middle of the zone and got hit very hard. However, it was not a mistake pitching him on short rest. There is nobody else on this roster we should trust more in a clinching game situation than the future Hall of Famer, apart from Gerrit Cole, and he pitched Saturday. Hindsight is always 20/20 and if Verlander would’ve pitched a gem, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Tropicana Field has historically given the Astros fits, and the past two games were no different.
Tidbits and hopeful thoughts:
The Astros will go into game 5 with a fully rested Gerrit Cole. They’ll be playing at Minute Maid Park, where they went 60-21 this season and in front of 43,000+ fans. The Roof will be closed. The stadium will be booming.
In 2017 the Astros played the Yankees in the ALCS and won the first two games at home. They then went to New York and lost all three games, they were down 3-2 heading home. They’ve been in this situation before. This is why home-field advantage is so important during the regular season.
The Rays are now on our turf. Sure, they won back to back games and have tied the series. They have the momentum. But we’ve still got the advantage. So if you’re able to Thursday night, make your way to Minute Maid Park. If not, find your favorite watering hole, get in front of your TV, and don’t for a second turn it off. It’s all on the line come Thursday, and the Astros will look again to clinch a date with the Yankees in the next round.