The Tampa Bay Rays had to be feeling good after taking a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning Wednesday night against the Houston Astros. Ji-Man Choi had just put them ahead with a two-run homer off Astros' hard-throwing righty Gerrit Cole, and Ryan Yarbrough was continuing his stellar season, having shut down the fearsome Astros lineup through the first three innings.
However, the Astros came roaring back in the fourth with three runs of their own off Yarbrough, and took advantage of the struggling Diego Castillo after the Rays took a 4-3 lead in the seventh to defeat the Rays 8-6.
The Rays knew going into the series against Houston that they would be facing a triumvirate of aces as the Astros were planning to throw their top three starters at them in this important set as the Rays jockey for playoff position.
We saw what happened Tuesday night, as the Rays were absolutely manhandled by Justin Verlander before his ejection, and on Thursday, they will face the Astros' new acquisition, Zack Greinke.
On Wednesday, however, they faced Cole, who came into the game tied with J.R. Richard for the team record in number of double-digit strikeout games. He also was one win shy of another team record of 12 consecutive wins, shared by Mark Portugal and Wade Miller.
While Cole struck out 14 Rays and is now the new team record holder for games with 10-plus strikeouts in a season, he did not factor into the decision, as his team bailed him out in the deciding seventh inning.
Neither team had a hit through the first three, though the Rays held a 1-0 lead. That run came in the second as Cole walked Choi to lead off the inning. Cole then balked Choi over to second as he dropped the ball while in his set, and after Cole struck out Avi Garcia, he threw a wild pitch to Joey Wendle, which advanced Choi to third. Wendle then plated Choi with a sacrifice fly.
After Choi's 12th homer, Jose Altuve led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and came around to score with one out on a single by Alex Bregman. With two out, Yuri Gurriel planted a ball in the right field seats for his 27th homer to tie the game at three.
The Rays took the lead in the seventh when Jesus Aguilar drove in Joey Wendle, who led off the inning with a triple.
Rays manager Kevin Cash then inserted Castillo into the game, saying after the game that he felt he matched up better against the Astros' strong right-handed lineup. The move immediately backfired, as Gurriel drew a walk and Aledmys Diaz tied the game with a double.
After a failed sacrifice bunt by Martin Maldonado, as Diaz was thrown out at third, Jake Marisnick singled, and then George Springer followed with a bloop single to give Houston the lead. Altuve then hit a grounder to short which he flipped to Eric Sogard covering second, but Sogard's relay throw slipped out of his hand, allowing Marisnick to score, and extending Houston's lead to 6-4.
After the Rays went 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth, Houston added two more insurance runs off Oliver Drake, which as it later turned out, were necessary. Bregman led off with a double, and Yordan Alvarez followed with a single. Diaz was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Maldonado, who promptly singled, as all runners moved up one base. The final run for Houston came when Springer was walked with the bases loaded.
Willy Adames added a two-run homer in the ninth off Astros closer Roberto Osuna, but that was the final threat.
The Rays now face the prospect of a sweep Thursday afternoon against Greinke, who's 4-0 in his four starts since joining the Astros in the big deadline-day trade.
*Astros reliever Will Harris picked up his fourth win, going one and a third innings with three strikeouts. Castillo took the loss and is now 2-8.
*Thursday's game is set for 2:10 p.m. with the aforementioned Greinke (14-4, 2.83 ERA) going up against Andrew Kittredge (1-0, 4.37 ERA).
*Sogard had an all-around bad day, as in addition to the throwing error, he struck out four times.
*Austin Meadows also struck out four times; the 1-2 hitters (Sogard and Meadows) for the Rays were 0-for-8 with 8 strikeouts. In all, Rays hitters struck out 19 times.