Two games in a row now, the difference in the Tampa Bay Rays defeating the Houston Astros in the ALCS has come down to one play.
The Rays, as anybody who has watched them this campaign know, make plays. The Astros, in what sealed their fate in Game 2 on Monday, did not.
One play — one throw in fact — was what spelled defeat for the Astros this time. Jose Altuve shorted a throw to first base in the first inning. Yuli Gurriel couldn’t dig it out. An easy third out turned into another opportunity for the Rays with two runners on base.
And the Rays did what the Rays do — exploit mistakes. Manuel Margot, the next hitter, came up and blasted a three-run homer to center field. That was all the offense the Rays would need. They got another run on an eighth-inning Mike Zunino homer and won the game 4-2.
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It’s got to be frustrating for the Astros, who for the second game in a row had more hits than the Rays (nine to four, this time around), but left too many players stranded on base (eight in Game 2; 18 for the series). Carlos Correa went deep again, a solo homer in the sixth, but it only made a small dent.
The Astros made things more interesting in the ninth inning, loading the bases twice against Rays closer Nick Anderson.
They got one more run across in the ninth inning, but the Rays pulled off another important double play and Alex Bregman flew out for the final out.
Houston also missed a nice outing from Lance McCullers Jr., who despite the two home runs pitched well. McCullers permitted just four hits and struck out 11.
That’s the kind of game you have to win in October and maybe the Astros would have if not the first-inning error that haunted them for the rest of the game.
For comparison, the Rays continued to show how they execute — particularly on defense. They were making plays like this in Game 2.
That was the Rays we saw in Game 1 also. They were clinging to a 2-1 lead most of the game, and during a tense eighth inning, got a key double play to end the inning and escape with a victory.
This is what the Rays do and how they win. They don’t have big-name stars like the rest of the teams left in the postseason, but they execute as good as anyone. And, as it seems, the ball is just bouncing their way right now.
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