ALCS Game 1: Astros learn the hard way just how tough it is to beat the Rays

Mike Oz
·3-min read
The Rays won a tight Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros. (Photo by Matt Thomas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Rays won a tight Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros. (Photo by Matt Thomas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

A lesson learned by the Houston Astros on Sunday night: It will take more than a first-inning solo home run to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.

Game 1 of their American League Championship Series was tight, all the way to the 2-1 final score in the Rays’ favor. And the Astros are leaving having learned just how hard it is to beat this Rays team — how it seems to always have some unlikely hero with a clutch hit, how it brings out top-notch bullpen arm after top-notch bullpen arm. And even get a bit of luck when it needs it.

It’s what helped the Rays edge the Yankees in the ALDS. It’s what helped them finish as the No. 1 team in the American League this season and now what has them up 1-0 in this series.

This time the heroes were one you may have expected and one you probably didn’t. It was Mike Zunino, soft-hitting catcher, who delivered the go-ahead RBI for Tampa Bay in the fifth inning. That came after Randy Arozarena — the Rays’ postseason folk hero — hit a solo homer in the fourth inning to tie the game.

Things started off well enough for the Astros. Jose Altuve, as the second batter of the game, homered off Rays starter Blake Snell. Visions of the Astros jumping all over the Twins and A’s in the previous rounds came to the minds of Rays fans, but that never actually happened. The Astros got seven more hits, but weren’t able to scratch together another run in the next eight innings.

Snell was good but not great, laboring through five innings with 105 pitches. But he only allowed the one run. Four Rays pitchers followed out of the bullpen and shut down the Astros.

The eighth inning got tense, but even then, the Rays had another arm ready to come in and get a big out. Aaron Loup started the inning on the mound, a risky choice since he hadn’t pitched since the wild-card series. Loup immediately hit the first batter, Michael Brantley, then proceeded to load the bases. Rays manager Kevin Cash would have gotten Loup out quicker if not for the three-batter minimum. Once he could, Diego Castillo came in and got Yuli Gurriel to ground into a double play to escape the jam.

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Bases loaded, one out, Astros down by one — and the Rays got the exact play they needed at the exact moment they needed it.

WHAT’S NEXT?

These two teams are back at it Monday at 4:07 p.m. ET for Game 2, as the Astros try to even the series. Big storyline alert: Charlie Morton is starting for the Rays, which is notable because he’s an ex-Astro. Not just any ex-Astro, though, he was on the 2017 World Series-winning team and actually was the winning pitcher of Game 7 — throwing the final four innings. The starter in that game was Lance McCullers Jr. As luck would have it, McCullers is opposing Morton in Game 2 this year.

Morton, 36, had a 3.50 ERA during the regular season and has one start in the postseason for the Rays, throwing five innings against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS. McCullers, meanwhile, has also made one start in the playoffs, throwing four innings against the A’s in ALDS Game 1. He gave up four earned runs in four innings, but the Astros still won that game.

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