HOUSTON — Well, Wednesday at least started better for the Rays.
They scored a run in the second inning — albeit without a hit, but, hey, who’s counting at this point — and took a lead for the first time since Friday. Heck, they added on, and when the Astros came back to tie, the Rays even went back ahead in the seventh.
But by the end of night, it wasn’t enough.
The Rays lost their fourth straight, 8-6 to the Astros, which of course didn’t help their standing in the in the AL wild-card race.
At 76-58, the Rays dropped 2½ games behind the wild-card-leading Indians, who come to the Trop this weekend, though stayed one behind the No. 2 A’s, who lost to the Royals. Also, if you dare to look, only four games ahead of the Red Sox.
"Obviously,'' Ji-Man Choi said, via translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong, "it’s going to be important for us to bounce back.''
A triple by Joey Wendle and a single by Jesus Aguilar gave the Rays a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh.
One call to the bullpen, summoning Diego Castillo to replace lefty starter Ryan Yarbrough, who had given them six strong innings in a reasonable 85 pitches, quickly erased it.
"We just liked the matchup,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "They had a string of right-handers (coming up). I thought it slotted up pretty well. Obviously it didn’t work.''
Compounding the decision, it didn’t help that Cash left Castillo out there after a rough start to the seventh.
Castillo walked the leadoff man, Yuli Gurriel, which is always a sign of trouble, and he stayed in.
After an attempted pickoff that at least got a long replay review before the safe call stood, Castillo gave up the lead when he gave up a double to Aledmys Diaz, and he stayed in.
A fielder’s choice out at third on a bunt (with Castillo bouncing the throw) and a single by No. 9 hitter Jake Marisnick set the Astros up for more, and Castillo stayed in.
Cash had both righty Nick Anderson and lefty Colin Poche warming for potential use later in the inning, but decided the time wasn’t right for a change.
"Then we’re pitching out of roles, we’re asking guys to come in there and that throws everything off,'' he said. "We owe it to all these guys to show confidence to get through a leadoff walk, but when it snowballs like it did, it stings a little bit.”
To be fair, it wasn’t all Castillo’s fault.
A bloop single by George Springer to right-center landed just out of the reach of second baseman Eric Sogard, scoring the go-ahead run. And when Castillo got a grounder for what could’ve been an inning-ending double play, Sogard inexplicably sailed it over the head of Choi at first base to make it 6-4.
"Of course I was positive I was going to be able to get out of that inning,'' Castillo said, via team translator Manny Navarro. "I was throwing my pitches like I normally do, just things happen like they did.''
The Astros added on from there and made it the fourth straight game the Rays, the team built on pitching, allowed seven or more runs, and 38 total, on 51 hits. Willy Adames hit a two-run homer for the Rays in the ninth to make it closer.
The Rays took the lead off Gerrit Cole, one of the Astros’ three aces, when Choi walked to open the second, moved around on a balk and a wild pitch, then scored on a Wendle sac fly. There was a little more action involved as they stretched the lead to 3-0 in the fourth after Tommy Pham singled with one out and Choi homered, his 12th of the season but first since Aug. 13.
The Rays had a lot of confidence, understandably, in having Yarbrough on the mound, who came in with an 11-3, 3.29 record overall and on an impressive run.
Going back to mid June, with a brief stint back in Triple A in the middle, Yarbrough had been dazzling over 12 appearances, four of which were starts. His record was 6-0. His ERA 1.48 over that span, which was best in the majors for pitchers with at least 50 innings. His game log was neat, showing he allowed one or no earned runs in 11 of those.
“He’s pitched as good as anybody in baseball over the last six-seven outings,’’ Cash said before the game.
And Yarbrough, who stepped out from behind an opener and into the rotation, gave them another solid outing Wednesday, allowing three runs on four hits over six innings.
All the runs came in the fourth, erasing the Rays’ lead. Jose Altuve led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Alex Bregman’s single. With two outs, Gurriel hit a two-run homer.
"Just looking back on it all, it was just all a matter of just falling behind on counts and not really executing pitches,'' Yarbrough said. "When you kind of fall behind in counts, it puts them in counts where they can get really aggressive, which they are as a team.
"But especially the one big homer obviously. If you give up one run in a 3-0 game, you can kind of come back from that and still kind of move forward. But then kind of falling behind Gurriel, two changeups away and then having to put something over the plate that he can do some damage with wasn’t really how you want to do it. And he made me pay for it.”
The Rays knew Cole would be tough, and he was, striking out a season-high-matching 14 over 6⅔ innings. He broke the Astros’ single-season record held by J.R. Richard since 1979 with his 15th game of 10 or more strikeouts.
The series against the powerhouse Astros was to provide some measure for the Rays.
So far, it hasn’t been good.
"(Tuesday) we had a tough loss and we had to win (Wednesday) but it didn’t turn out well,'' Choi said. "Starting from (Thursday) we need to come out and play well and beat them, and when we go back home we also need to start winning more games.''
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.