SAN DIEGO — The Rays made quite a case for their defense Monday.
Shortstop Willy Adames and third baseman Joey Wendle each made multiple dazzling plays at key moments. First baseman Ji-Man Choi repeatedly did splits and stretches to corral throws. And second baseman Brandon Lowe turned the double play in the ninth inning that saved the lead, and the day in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros
"We work on it every day,'' Adames said. "We’re just happy that we can help the pitcher on the mound, today it was Charlie (Morton). We work on it. And when you work on it in practice, it is going to show up in the game. It did today, and we’re really happy about that.''
Even Monday, when no batting practice was scheduled due to the early start (1:07 local time) and the team buses from the resort hotel bubble were late due to being rerouted around an accident on Interstate 5, the Rays took infield practice.
And it paid off again.
"Joey Wendle and Willy Adames … put on a clinic today defensively,'' manager Kevin Cash said.
Adames snared a line drive in the second and made a sliding play in the third. Wendle made several key grabs in the middle of the game. And Choi had a big part in making sure they got the outs.
"For every infielder, you know it’s good when you have a first baseman like that,'' Adames said. "For us to have Ji-Man, it’s fun. We thank him every time, you know, he makes a split like that. … Obviously we don’t want to make those kind of throws, but it happens in the game, you know. I mean it just happens and whenever he does that is, it’s really fun to watch that. For him to have that flexibility is unbelievable.''
And that was all, of course, in addition to the spectacular catch of a foul ball made by rightfielder Manuel Margot.
Z marks the spot
Catcher Mike Zunino gave the Rays some needed cushion in the seventh inning, extending a 3-1 lead with a homer off Astros starter Lance McCullers, who had the benefit of the shadows creeping across the field. And a 454-foot blast at that, fourth longest of Zunino’s career. It was the third homer of the postseason for Zunino, who is hitting .206 with six RBIs in eight games after .147 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 28 games during the regular season. "Mike is seeing the ball well right now,'' Cash said. "That was a huge hit at the time, just a little bit more breathing room. Z’s having some really good at-bats out of that (No. 9) spot. And what he’s done with the pitching — we talk about it all the time, for good reason, if you’re going to give the pitching credit and the bullpen credit, all those guys, Z’s right in the thick of that, along with Mikey Perez.''
Error of his ways
Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve made the costliest mistake of the day, bouncing a seemingly nonchalant throw with two outs in the first inning from his shifted position in short rightfield after fielding a somewhat routine grounder by Ji-Man Choi. That allowed Choi to be safe and extend the inning, bringing up Margot, who hit the three-run homer that set the Rays on their way to the win. Altuve, who made a similar error in the third, was not made available to the media. “Very surprised,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s his first throwing error all year, and then he had two of them (Monday). You’re just hoping he isn’t getting the yips. Invariably, they come in bunches. Everything comes in bunches — errors, hits, homers, everything. I just told him to flush it. I mean, this guy’s been awesome for us. He’s got to flush it and move on or else it multiplies. I’m sure he’ll do that.”
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Yarbrough, for starters
Having used the bullpen to cover eight innings in the first two games, the Rays will let lefty Ryan Yarbrough start Game 3 Tuesday rather than use an opener in front of him, as they did in Game 4 of the Division Series. Yarbrough would rather start, as he did most of this season, but he made it clear to his bosses he’s all-in on whatever they think is best during the postseason. "We all just want to win games right now,'' Yarbrough said. "There’s no egos, none of that right here. So anything that we can help win ballgames and knowing that the coaching staff is going to put us in the best position to have success.'' Cash said they appreciate it. "He’s unbelievable,'' Cash said. "He’s a winner. Whatever we’ve asked him, he’s done. I don’t blame him for wanting to start. On many occasions or different scenarios, he is a top starter. We feel that sometimes it’s advantageous to use an opener in front of him to maybe set the lineup or give him a different chunk of the game. But we know when he comes in the game, he doesn’t care what the situation is, he’s going to compete as well as any pitcher that we have.''
Number of the day
Percent of teams (72 of 85) that have won best-of-seven postseason series after taking 2-0 leads.
Game times for Tuesday and Wednesday were set for 8:40 p.m. Eastern time. … The Astros plan to start right-handers Jose Urquidy in Game 3 and Zack Greinke in Game 4. … How confident — or out of better options — was Cash in the ninth as Nick Anderson allowed three straight singles and then, after a run-scoring double play, two walks? No one warmed up. … The Rays will bat first and be the “visiting” team for Games 3-4-5. … The bat Mike Brosseau used to hit the eighth-inning homer off Aroldis Chapman in ALDS Game 5 is going to the Hall of Fame. … Though without the acrobatics that Margot showed Monday, former Cubs prospect and now White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez made a similar catch along the side wall at Petco Park in the 2016 All-Star Futures Game. … Carlos Peña, a member of the Rays' 2008 ALCS-winning team, threw the ceremonial first pitch (via video) to then-Rays and now MLB Network teammate Cliff Floyd. … There was a pregame moment of silence for Joe Morgan, the Hall of Famer who died Sunday.… First-pitch temperature was a toasty 87 degrees.