ALCS Game 1: Astros learn the hard way just how tough it is to beat the Rays
The Rays won a close game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros. (Photo by Matt Thomas / MLB Photos via Getty Images)
A lesson the Houston Astros learned on Sunday night: It will take more than a solo home run in the first inning to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
Game 1 of their American League Championship Series was close to the 2-1 final in favor of the Rays. And the Astros leave after learning how hard it is to beat this Rays team - it seems like it always has an unlikely hero with a clutch slap that spawns one top-notch bullpen arm after another. And even get a little luck if you need to.
This has helped the Rays crowd out the Yankees in the ALDS. This has helped them finish as number 1 in the American League this season and now they have won 1-0 in that series.
This time around, the heroes were one you might have expected and one you probably didn't expect. It was Mike Zunino, a gentle catcher, who delivered the RBI for Tampa Bay in the fifth inning. This came after Randy Arozarena - the post-season folk hero of the Rays - hit a solo homer in the fourth inning to tie the game.
It went well enough for the Astros. Jose Altuve, the second batsman of the game, faced Ray's starter Blake Snell. Visions of the Astros jumping over the Twins and Aces in the final laps came to mind to the Rays fans, but that actually never happened. The Astros took seven more hits but couldn't scrape another run together for the next eight innings.
Snell was good but not great, working his way through five innings with 105 pitches. But he only allowed one run. Four jugs of radiation followed from the bullpen and switched off the Astros.
The eighth inning was tense, but even then the Rays had another arm ready to come in and take a big exit. Aaron Loup started the inning on the hill, a risky choice since he hadn't thrown since the wildcard series. Loup immediately hit the first batsman, Michael Brantley, and then loaded the bases. Ray manager Kevin Cash would have got Loup out quicker if it hadn't been for the minimum of three thugs. As soon as he could, Diego Castillo walked in and got Yuli Gurriel to play doubles to avoid the traffic jam.
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Bases loaded, one out, Astros one at a time - and the Rays got exactly the game they needed, exactly when they needed it.
These two teams will be back on Monday at 4:07 pm. ET for Game 2 as the Astros try to level the streak. Big Storyline Alert: Charlie Morton starts for the Rays, which is noteworthy given that he's an ex-astro. However, he wasn't just any ex-astro, but a member of the 2017 World Series winning team and indeed the winner of Game 7 - he threw the last four innings. The starter in this game was Lance McCullers Jr. As luck would have it, McCullers is in Game 2 against Morton this year.
Morton, 36, had a 3.50 regular season ERA and has a postseason start for the Rays, throwing five innings against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS. McCullers has since made a start in the playoffs and thrown four innings against the A's in ALDS Game 1. He gave up four well-deserved runs in four innings, but the Astros won that game anyway.
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