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The Rays have a problem: Houston

Wednesday’s loss is the third straight against the AL-best Astros, but at least this one isn’t a shutout.
The Rays get a solid seven innings from Corey Kluber on Wednesday against the Astros.
The Rays get a solid seven innings from Corey Kluber on Wednesday against the Astros. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sep. 22|Updated Sep. 22

ST. PETERSBURG — At least the Rays put up a fight this time.

Having been blanked and beaten in the first two games against the American League-best Astros, the Rays took a lead into the eighth inning Wednesday, then gave it up and lost again, this time 5-2, to complete a telling sweep.

Brooks Raley was the culprit against his former Houston mates, taking over with a 2-1 lead, then allowing three runs, capped by a two-run left-on-left homer by Kyle Tucker, the Plant High product.

The reality of the three-game series seemed to highlight a significant gap between the wild-card hopeful Rays and top-seeded Astros, as the Rays were held to two runs over the three games, with a 1-for-20 showing with runners in scoring position, while allowing 14 runs.

“We’ve got to play better,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I try not to focus on the Astros. If we do that, we’re going to not focus on some other people.

“We can play better than what we showed. You have to give them credit. There’s a reason why they’re pushing 100 wins and clinched the division. But they’re a very talented team. I feel like that we’re a talented team, but we do need to do some things a little bit better.”

Brooks Raley prepares to pitch after giving up a two-run home run in the eighth inning.
Brooks Raley prepares to pitch after giving up a two-run home run in the eighth inning. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

And probably soon, as they have lost nine of their last 13.

The loss dropped the Rays to 82-67 with 13 games left and further stalled their pursuit of a spot in the three-team AL wild-card field. They are two games behind the Blue Jays, whom they host in a four-game series beginning Thursday, and just a half game ahead of the Mariners, pending the late result. The Rays also lost a game to the pursuing Orioles, who are now 4 1/2 back.

It also was the first time the Rays were swept in a home series of three or more games since April 19-21, 2019, by Boston, ending the longest such active streak in the majors.

As in the first two games of the series, the Astros scored in the first inning, scratching out one run off Corey Kluber, who gave the Rays seven strong innings in an encouraging bounceback outing after two tough ones.

“He was outstanding,” Cash said. “Awesome. Good to see that from ‘Klubes.’”

The Rays did end their scoreless streak, which started in the seventh inning Sunday, at 25 when they got a run on two hits and a groundout in the sixth to tie the score 1-1. They took the lead in the seventh on a homer by Isaac Paredes, his team-leading 20th.

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado (15) looks on as Wander Franco (5) scores a run in the sixth inning.
Astros catcher Martin Maldonado (15) looks on as Wander Franco (5) scores a run in the sixth inning. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
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But Raley couldn’t hold it. He allowed a leadoff double to Jeremy Pena, a long flyout that moved Pena to third, a bouncing RBI single over the drawn-in infield to Aledmys Diaz and a 440-foot two-run homer to Tucker that hit the net above the rays tank to the right of centerfield.

“It just happened quick,” Cash said. “Brooks has put together a really good year for us. Our bullpen has been so good. He’s been a big part of it.”

Raley, who hadn’t allowed a run over his last 10 appearances, was well aware of the challenge, having spent 2020-21 with Houston.

“They’re obviously a very good team,” he said. “I know them well. They were swinging early. They found some barrels there, and Tucker obviously did the damage on a bad pitch and made me pay for it.”

Kluber said they can’t get too caught up in how they measured up against the Astros, who they face again next weekend, and maybe later in the playoffs.

“I don’t think we’ll look at it that way,” he said. “I would assume the view we’ll take is that unfortunately we lost three games and regardless of the opponent that’s never a good feeling to have. We’ll come back (Thursday), we’ve got a big series coming up and start over with that one. I don’t think these three games mean anything for that one.”

Nor did Raley.

“I think they looked like they own that record, and obviously (are) a very good team, very well-rounded,” he said. “I don’t think we played our best there for those three. But ... I know the guys are going to be ready for (the Toronto series).”

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