If Rays fans were looking for an easy, stress-free first game, then sorry to tell you, folks, this is not the Championship Series you are looking for. Blood pressure will be sky-high for the next four-to-seven days, and this first game was just an aperitif of what we have waiting for us.
Blake Snell took the Bump Day nod for the first game against the Houston Astros in the ALCS (sorry, I know you know what we’re watching, but I get a lot of joy out of writing a recap for the Rays being in the ALCS). He was up against Framber Valdez, and a healthy Astros lineup with a massive chip in their shoulder.
Things went badly right off the bat (literally?) and in his second batter of the game, Snell gave up a solo home run to Jose Altuve, giving the Astros the immediate lead in the game. He followed that up with a Brantley single, but was able to get out of the jam (a sentiment we’ll see a fair bit throughout this game).
The bottom of the first and the whole second inning were quietly efficient for both teams, with Snell making up for a 29-pitch first inning, and Valdez seeming to have a pretty solid awareness of how to minimize damage from the Rays batters.
In the top of the third inning Snell gave up a single to George Springer, which was thankfully mitigated when Springer made an effort to steal second and was thrown out on the basepaths. A follow up single to Altuve put a man on, but the Astros were unable to take advantage.
The Rays made a similar gaffe in the bottom of the inning as a Kiermaier double that looked promising was cut down as he made an attempt to steal third, and for the first time all postseason, the in-base camera was actually worth something when it came to seeing if he touched before the tag. The tagout was reviewed, and ultimately Kiermaier was ruled out.
Things got deeply ugly in the fourth inning for Snell. First Alex Bregman singled. Then Carlos Correa walked. Kyle Tucker lined into a double play to eliminate the threat of Bregman, but a walk to Gurriel quickly put two men back on. Then Aledmys Diaz hit a liner right back at Snell, who must have initially thought he caught it, but it rolled behind him, and allowed all of the runners to safely advance, loading the bases. Thankfully a Maldonado lineout ended the inning without any runs scoring, but it was a messy inning overall.
In the bottom of the fourth, Randy Arozarena once again proved his out to win everyone’s heart this postseason as he hit a solo home run to tie the game. Brandon Lowe also reached on a swinging bunt, which is worth noting because Lowe reached, yay!, but he didn’t advance beyond first.
Snell pitched a clean fifth, which marked the end of the night for him, and he finished with a final line of 5.0IP, 6H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 2K, 1HR on 105 pitches. Not a great night by the numbers, but not bad overall.
The Rays started to make moves in the bottom of the fifth inning. First Willy Adames drew a walk, then two back-to-back groundouts to Margot and Kiermaier advanced him to third. Then a Mike Zunino single brought him home, and the triumphant return of small ball brought the Rays into the lead, 2-1.
John Curtiss came on in relief of Snell and gave up a single to Bregman to start out the sixth, but Correa grounded into a fielder’s choice, eliminating the Bregman threat. Tucker grounded out to Curtiss to advance Correa, who then advanced to third on a wild pitch. A Gurriel walk added to the tension, but Curtiss was able to end the inning with a Diaz groundout to the catcher, and no runs scored.
Valdez has a walk-heavy bottom of the sixth, issuing walks to Diaz and Adames, but the Rays weren’t able to capitalize on the baseunners.
Ryan Thompson came on in the seventh inning for the Rays and pitched a clean one-two-three frame. In the bottom of the seventh, Valdez gave way to Astros reliever Blake Taylor. Taylor gave up a lead off double to Kevin Kiermaier, then hit Mike Brosseau with a pitch (ouch, but clearly not intentional at all). That was it for Taylor, though, who had faced his minimum three batters, and gave way to Enoli Paredes to face Arozarena and Lowe, collecting both outs to end the inning.
Tension achieved a new name in the eighth inning as Aaron Loup came on for the Rays and immediately hit Michael Brantley with a pitch (also, very clearly not intentional, Loup hasn’t been in a game since late September, it was far more likely just nerves). He got Bregman out, then walked Correa, and a Tucker single loaded the bases. Thankfully he had reached the batter minimum at that point and Kevin Cash was able to do a quick switch to bring in Diego Castillo who induced a double play on his first pitch of the inning to end the threat.
Just like you draw it up pic.twitter.com/aKSJc7ibDD— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 12, 2020
Brooks Raley came on in the bottom of the eighth for the Astros and gave up a leadoff single to Diaz, but then quickly collected two outs, and then a nine-pitch battle to Margot turned into a walk. Alas, in spite of some mighty efforts, the Rays were unable to add more runs.
In the top of the ninth, hoping to collect the final three outs, Diego Castillo returned to the mound. He got the first out with a Diaz lineout, then a pinch-hitting Josh Reddick got a single. Springer hit a dribbling liner down the first base line that Brosseau was able to toss to Castillo for the second out, but Reddick advanced to second. Ultimately Castillo was able to collect a swinging strikeout to Altuve to secure the victory for the Rays.
Deep breath, friends, we do it again tomorrow.