Astros' big bats go silent in ALCS opener loss to Tampa Bay

SAN DIEGO (AP) - After hitting the ball across Dodger Stadium last week, the Houston Astros found it much harder to hit as they moved a couple of hours down the coast for the AL Championship Series.
Tampa Bay limited the Astro's star-studded line-up to nine hits - but only one for additional bases - in the Rays' 2-1 win to open the ALCS at Petco Park on Sunday night.
The Houston offense that set off fireworks against Minnesota and Oakland after the season was a boring squib in San Diego - at least after José Altuve's first inning homer, the Astros' 14th long ball in those playoffs and their 13th in the last five games.
The Astros ran out of big hits against Blake Snell and the Rays' rightly praised bullpen. They racked up significant rallies in five different innings, but repeatedly failed to get the key that would have made a close game more comfortable for the defending AL champions.
"It's disappointing, but these guys have good pitching staff," said Houston manager Dusty Baker. “We hit a few balls well and threatened. Opportunity is the name of the game. If you keep getting chances, sooner or later you will get through. We had a damn good opportunity tonight, but they just got away. "
Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and the Astros left 10 men on the base in the opener, only went 2 to 8 with runners in goal position, but did not run any heats with those two hits.
Houston scored 33 runs in four games while ousting AL West Champion Oakland from the Division Series in the Chavez Ravine last week, beating .333 with runners in goal against the A's.
It's far too early on the series for the Astros to feel that something is wrong with their offense. In fact, Alex Bregman was feeling pretty good about Game 1 aside from the outcome.
"We hit the ball hard and hit line drives," said Bregman, who went 2 to 4. "I think we didn't hit much at all. I thought the bats were great. Just didn't get that big of a hit today. This is baseball. Keep those good bats out and I like our chances."
But with big scoring chances in the final two innings of the ALCS opener, the Astros failed to capitalize - and the last two hurt the most.
Yuli Gurriel ended up first in a double game, with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning against Diego Castillo, and extended Gurriel's alarming playoff slump to 2 for 25.
"The law of averages is on his side," said Baker of Gurriel, a .287 batsman. “This guy is too good not to recover. Everyone in the dugout knew they'd get at least one prey fly or a base hit. It drives him crazy because he's not used to fighting like that. We just have to keep believing in Yuli. "
Prize hitter Josh Reddick then finished ninth but George Springer and Altuve couldn't get him home and Castillo beat Altuve with Reddick on second base to finish him.
Houston's bats arrived in San Diego with an average of 6.67 runs and just under 10 hits per game in those playoffs, which they only reached after a mediocre regular season in which they were in the middle of the major league in almost all statistical categories.
The Astros led the AL in 2019 in batting average, base percentage, and stroke count, but they seemed to be taking a step back from the spectacular offensive play that took them to two AL pennants in three years. The three-time AL batting master Altuve's average has dropped to 0.219 in the regular season, while Bregman and Gurriel were also well below their previous statistical standards.
After the Astros had two wins against the favored Minnesota in the wildcard round, he rediscovered a huge offensive groove against the A's.
They lost it just as quickly against the Rays, whose pitching team is fresh after a tough five-game win over the powerful line-up of the Yankees.
The Astros scored the first goal in all four games against Oakland in the ALDS and again in Game 1 of the ALCS. Altuve mashed a high 2-1 fastball from Snell in the first inning for his third homer of the postseason.
Houston got two straight singles in the third game, but Springer was caught stealing to suppress the rally. The Astros got two more hits and two walks in the fourth, but a double play slowed the rally before it ended with a flight from Martin Maldonado, who fought on the plate year-round.
Snell allowed six hits and two walks, but only one run.
"He's thrown a lot of places," said Baker. "He just got out. We hit a few balls well. ... It hurts to lose those one-run games. They're good at one-run games, but I'm only." I knew we would pull it out. "
Tampa Bay also used gimmicks to slow the Astros down: The Rays employed a four-man outfield against Bregman in the sixth inning, who still hit a single to the right. Three Houston base runners in sixth failed to make third base.
Michael Brantley was in second base in round eight when Kyle Tucker picked the seldom used reliever Aaron Loup, but Tucker hit the ball so hard - 108 mph from the punch - that Brantley didn't have time to take third place reach and score a goal. Castillo took over and induced the inning-ending groundout from Gurriel.
"Nobody could have scored at that ball," said Baker. "It's hit too hard if there is such a thing."
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