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Tampa Bay Rays falter in ALDS opening loss to Astros

Astros 6, Rays 2: A homer by Altuve, a rookie in a tough spot, a defensive mistake on a pop-up all turn into a mess.
Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Willy Adames (1) bites his helmet after hitting a pop fly in the second inning against the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 in Houston. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 4

HOUSTON – The first game of the AL Division Series didn’t go very well for the Rays.

Their starter, Tyler Glasnow, gave up a two-run homer to Jose Altuve, one of the Astros hitters most likely to do damage. Their manager, Kevin Cash, put rookie reliever Brendan McKay into a tough spot that got worse. Their second baseman, Brandon Lowe, misplayed an inning-ending pop-up to shallow rightfield into a two-run error, though their rightfielder, Austin Meadows, deserves some of the blame. Their hitters managed only a single in seven innings against Astros ace Justin Verlander.

And, as you could probably guess by now, they lost, 6-2.

The good news is that this is a best-of-five series, and they have a chance on Saturday night to get even,

Further, if you want to latch onto something, the Rays lost the first game of the season to Verlander and the Astros, then came back and won the next three.

The first four innings Friday were pretty much a classic pitcher’s duel between Rays playoff first-timer Glasnow and Astros veteran ace Verlander.

Unfortunately for the Rays, Glasnow cracked first.

He started the fifth badly, with a four-pitch walk to No. 9 hitter Josh Reddick. As Brendan McKay and Nick Anderson warmed, Glasnow came back to strike out George Springer on three pitches, the last his 73rd of the afternoon.

Manager Kevin Cash left him to face the always dangerous Jose Altuve, and that didn’t work out. Glasnow came with three fastballs. Altuve fouled off the first, watched the second and then jumped on the third, which was at the top of the zone, and drove it over the leftfield wall for a 2-0 lead.

Cash then came to get Glasnow, and made a decision that wasn’t unexpected but still somewhat surprising, summoning rookie lefty Brendan McKay, who was added to the roster to work in the unfamiliar role of situational reliever.

The situation turned out to be a mess.

McKay allowed a single to lefty Michael Brantley. With another rookie, lefty swinger Yordan Alvarez, due up third Cash had McKay pitch to righty Alex Bregman, the Astros quite-worthy MVP candidate.

McKay got behind 2-0 then got back to 2-2, but when he came with a fifth straight fastball Bregman was ready and lashed it high off the leftfield wall. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier’s hustle in retrieving the ball as it caromed away from Tommy Pham kept the Astros from scoring, but not for long as Chaz Roe took over on the mound.

Yuli Gurriel blooped a ball to shallow rightfield that should have ended the inning but the Rays played into two runs.

Second baseman Brandon Lowe gave chase, and the ball glanced off his glove allowing both runs to score and the lead to grow to 4-0. But some blame has to go to rightfielder Austin Meadows, who seemingly should have called off Lowe and made the catch.

The circumstances were slightly different, but it was somewhat reminiscent of a momentum changing play in the opening game of the 2013 ALDS at Boston, when Rays centerfielder Desmond Jennings and rookie rightfielder Wil Myers combined to let a ball drop.

It got worse from there for the Rays.

Oliver Drake got two outs to start the seventh, but a two-out walk to Bregman led to more trouble. Bregman stole second, then Alvarez laced a ball through the open side of the infield to make it 5-0. Meadows’ bad day in the field continued as he came up short on a sliding attempt to catch Gurriel’s fly ball down the rightfield line and Alvarez scored to make it 6-0.

The Rays knew facing Verlander would be a challenge, and it certainly started out that way, as they didn’t get a hit until Brandon Lowe led off the fifth with a single, and none others through his seven innings. Similarly frustrating, Verlander walked three and they failed to take advantage, Tommy Pham twice hitting into double plays.

But they got something going in the eighth off reliever Ryan Pressly, most of it with two outs. Joey Wendle singled with one out then moved to second on a ground out. Eric Sogard, added to the roster after missing most of the last three weeks with a foot bruise, delivered a clutch pinch-hit, scoring Wendle. Meadows followed with a double to deep center that made it 6-2.

An infield single by Pham created the chance for more, but the Astros brought in Will Harris, and he got Ji-Man Choi to ground out.

The series continues on Saturday night, when the Rays send lefty Blake Snell to the mound against Houston 20-game winner Gerrit Cole, who led the majors with 326 strikeouts and the AL with a 2.50 ERA

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


  1. FILE - In this July 24, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during a baseball game in Houston. Verlander has been awarded his second AL Cy Young Award. MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP
    The Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins the NL award for the second straight year.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  3. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  4. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  6. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  7. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  8. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.
  9. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro (33) talks to umpire Bruce Dreckman at the bottom of the fourth inning against Texas Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. 
 ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The other finalists, per a report, are Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.