ST. PETERSBURG – Throughout this nine-game homestand, the Rays have found ways to frustrate three of the best teams in baseball. This time it was the Astros who left Tropicana Field wondering what the heck just happened.
Tampa Bay took the final three of the four-game series against the World Series champions after a 3-2 win Sunday in front of 19,334 at Tropicana Field. The Rays went 8-1 in the homestand, which is second best in franchise history. And it came against the Yankees, Nationals and Astros.
On Sunday it was the arm of Blake Snell that kept the Rays in the game for the first eight innings. The likely All-Star scattered four hits, including a solo home run to Evan Gattis in the seventh, and struck out 10 in 7⅓ innings.
It was the 11th consecutive home start that Snell had given up one earned run or fewer, tying the American League record set by Hall of Famer Walter Johnson in 1914. It's the second-longest streak in baseball since 1913.
"The changeup was really good,'' said the 25-year-old Snell, who improved to 11-4. "I got a lot of groundouts. I was happy with that.
"Everybody's doing their part."
It was also the glove and bat of Mallex Smith.
Starting in center to give Kevin Kiermaier a rest, Smith made an outstanding running catch in the fifth, robbing Jake Marisnick of extra bases with two outs and a runner on to keep the game scoreless.
In the eighth, Smith slugged a two-out solo homer that increased the lead to 3-1 and proved to be pivotal in the outcome. It was his first home run since July 21, 2017, a stretch of 356 at-bats, the longest active homerless streak in the majors for nonpitchers.
"It's a monkey off my back,'' he said. "I don't have to worry about being the guy with no homers any more.''
It was also the clutch hitting of Matt Duffy and the heads-up baserunning of Joey Wendle.
The Rays (42-41) had just fallen behind 1-0 in the seventh on Gattis' homer to left. In the bottom of the inning, Jesus Sucre got a one-out single off starter Charlie Morton and Adeiny Hechavarria came in to pinch-run.
With two outs, Wendle singled to put runners on first and second. Reliever Chris Devenski entered, and Duffy greeted him with a bloop single to right that landed just fair. Hechavarria scored easily, and when rightfielder Josh Reddick inexplicably held the ball too long, Wendle was waved home and scored standing up for a 2-1 Rays lead.
"I saw Q (third-base coach Matt Quatraro),'' Wendle said. "My back was to the play. My goal was to run as hard as I can and make (Quatraro) stop me. It looked like he was reading the play, and he kind of gave me a subtle wave to go home. I just took off.''
It was an unforced error from a Houston team that dropped to 55-31 and rarely makes mental mistakes. "I kind of blanked when I came up with the ball,'' Reddick said. "I didn't see how far Wendle was off the base, and I kind of froze. Unacceptable move.''
Finally, it was the clutch relief of Diego Castillo and Sergio Romo.
Snell started the eighth and got the first out, but he ran into trouble when a swinging third strike got by catcher Wilson Ramos, allowing Marisnick to reach. Tony Kemp singled and Alex Bregman walked to load the bases.
Castillo entered to face Jose Altuve, the reigning AL MVP who is second in the league in batting with runners in scoring position. But the 24-year-old rookie got Altuve swinging on a 3-2 slider for the second out.
Then he faced Yuli Gurriel, who is first in the AL with runners in scoring position, and got him on a groundout to Hechavarria at short to end the threat.
"That's probably not the best situation to put a young pitcher in,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "He seems to rise up to it. … He stays calm in the moment.''
Romo entered in the ninth and gave up Gattis' second homer. But after a walk, Reddick hit into a double play and pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez grounded out.
"This was a big game,'' Cash said. "We knew we had a chance to make this a special homestand and (Snell) capped it off.''
The Rays now begin a six-game road trip to face the Marlins and Mets.