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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.