Rays make it interesting before falling 3-1

Astros 3, Rays 1: Gerrit Cole’s dominance, Alex Bregman’s homer and a late Rays rally that fell short.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays for Game 2 of the American League Division Series Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Houston.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays for Game 2 of the American League Division Series Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Houston. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 6, 2019|Updated Oct. 6, 2019

Update, end of game:

Well, at least they made it interesting.

After striking out 15 times against Astros starter Gerrit Cole, the Rays brought the winning run to the plate four times in the ninth inning before Houston right-hander Will Harris came on to strike out Travis d’Arnaud and retire Kevin Kiermaier on a grounder with the bases loaded to preserve a 3-1 victory.

Houston takes a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 Monday at Tropicana Field with the chance to close out the best-of-five series.

The Rays loaded the bases twice in the ninth off Astros closer Roberto Osuna, first with nobody out.

Singles by Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham and preceded a walk to Ji-Man Choi. With Joey Wendle running for Choi at first, Avisail Garcia grounded into a force out but beat the relay throw to avoid a double play. Meadows scored from third to make it 3-1.

Osuna, who went to 3-2 counts on three straight batters, then walked Brandon Lowe to reload the bases before Astros manager A.J. Hinch yanked him in favor of Harris.

Updated, end of seventh:

Astros reliever Roberto Osuna struck out Yandy Diaz on three pitches, stranding two Rays after Astros starter Gerrit Cole finally wore down in the top of the eighth.

Kevin Kiermaier laced a two-out double to the gap in right-center before Willy Adames coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch, Cole’s career-high 118th and last of the night. But Osuna made short work of Diaz.

The Rays struck out 23 times in 14⅔ innings against Astros starters Justin Verlander and Cole.

Update, end seventh:

In Game 1, it was a solo home run by Jose Altuve and an error by Brandon Lowe (assist Austin Meadows), that did the fatal damage.

In Game 2, it was a solo home run by Alex Bregman and an error by Willy Adames that did it.

Adames’ throwing error and Carlos Correa’s double produced an Astros threat in the bottom of the seventh that Martin Maldonado cashed in. Maldonado blooped reliever Emilio Pagan’s 1-2 cut fastball into left field, scoring Yuli Gurriel for a 2-0 Astros lead.

Update, middle of the seventh:

We’re running out of ways to say how dominant Gerrit Cole is tonight, but here’s one more:

He’s the first pitcher in postseason baseball history with 13 strikeouts and no walks through 6⅓ innings.

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Update, end fifth inning:

If the Rays come back to win this game and this series — the Astros may have their Bartman.

In this case, it’s actually a piece of furniture — a ballboy’s stool

In the fifth inning, catcher Martin Maldonado ripped what looked to be a double that was headed deep into the left-field corner. The ballboy got out of the way but left his stool behind. When the ball caromed off the ballboy’s stool, it rolled to Rays left fielder Austin Meadows.

The Astros Kyle Tucker, son of Tampa, was running from first on the play and would have scored easily if the ball gets to the corner, and Maldonado would have cruised into second base.

Instead, the Rays kept runners at first and third. Diego Castillo struck out George Springer and Willy Adames turned a nifty double play on Jose Altuve’s grounder, getting a big save from Ji-Man Choi at first base. A potential Astros big inning went for naught.

Update, middle of the fifth inning:

Well, the Rays can take at least a little comfort in this: Gerrit Cole does this to everybody.

When he struck out Kevin Kiermaier to end the Rays’ fifth inning, Cole notched his 10th strikeout for his 10th consecutive start.

His nine straight 10-strikeout starts to finish the regular season are a major league record. Nolan Ryan never did it. Roger Clemens never did it. Bob Feller never did it. Just the guy who is dominating the Rays Saturday night in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Update, end of fourth inning:

Alex Bregman hit his seventh career post-season home run, blasting a 3-2 pitch from Blake Snell into the left-field stands to give the Astros a 1-0 lead to lead off the fourth inning.

That one run feels like 10. The Rays have one hit and seven strikeouts in four innings off Astros starter Gerrit Cole.

One batter later, Kevin Cash called it a night for Snell, who allowed four hits and one earned run in 4⅓ innings. Diego Castillo is coming on to pitch.

Update, end of the third inning:

The Rays couldn’t have hoped for a better start from Blake Snell. He’s pitched three scoreless innings with four strikeouts. And when he’s encountered trouble, this:

Update, middle of the third inning:

This pretty much sums up the first three innings for the Rays:

Update, middle of the second inning:

When Fox opened its broadcast of Game 2, it mentioned the Rays starting lineup owned a .305 career batting average against Houston starter Gerrit Cole.

So far, file that under “useless information." Cole had five strikeouts through two innings, needing only six pitches to dispatch Avisail Garcia and Brandon Lowe in the second inning. His strikeout of Travis d’Arnaud to end the inning leaves the Rays catcher hitless in nine post-season at bats.

Update, end of the first inning:

Is Blake Snell back?

It’s only one inning, 10 pitches to be precise. But Snell looked sharper in the scoreless first than at any point since his return from the injury list. Against leadoff man George Springer, who took him deep to start the 2018 season at the Trop, Snell pounded the strike zone at 97, 97, 96 and 97 mph, getting Springer to foul out.

In the Rays half of first, Tommy Pham improved his career batting average against Astros starter Gerrit Cole to .526 with his 10th hit in 19 at bats, a sharp two-out single to right in the bottom of the first inning. The Rays stranded him there when Cole struck out Ji-Man Choi.

But keep an eye on Cole’s pitch count. After shortstop Carlos Correa’s outstanding play on Yandy Diaz’s grounder in the hole, the Rays worked the count. Cole fanned two in the inning but needed 21 pitches to do it. The Rays made him work a lot harder than they made Justin Verlander in any inning of Game 1.

Here’s a few last-minute reads before the first pitch from Minute Maid Park:

How these Rays were built is a little different

Why the Rays went with Blake Snell in Game 2

Game 3 will have a 1:05 p.m. start Monday at Tropicana Field

Contact Mike Sherman at Follow @mikesherman