See if this sounds familiar? The Tampa Bay Rays grab an early lead against a heralded Astros pitcher and then a cast of unknowns keep Houston's offense shut down except for a two-run homer by Alex Bregman. It should ring a bell since the Rays have done it each of the past two games, including a 5-2 decision over Justin Verlander on Saturday. If Seattle can upend Kansas City out on the coast, they will move within 1-1/2 games of Houston for the AL West lead.
Verlander: One of those days
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Wilson Ramos was the star for Tampa. Verlander loaded the bases in the first inning on a hit batter and a pair of singles then Ramos spanked a pitch off the left field wall for a two-run double. A sacrifice fly bounced the lead to 3-0.
The next inning, it's Ramos again with a seeing-eye single past a diving Marwin Gonzalez for two more runs and a 5-0 advantage, four of them plated by the Tampa catcher.
Houston could muster just five hits on Saturday to go with three hits on Friday. Ryne Stanek, Vidal Nuno, Jose Alvarado, Chad Roe and Sergio Romo aren't exactly household names but they kept the lockdown on Houston's bats, all except Alex Bregman who drilled a two-run homer for the second game in a row. Jose Altuve had two hits but, unfortunately, he bats right after Bregman, not before.
Verlander had his shortest outing of the season, lasting five innings, allowing five runs on nine hits. He whiffed eight and saw his ERA push above the two-run mark for the first time this season. Will Harris, Tony Sipp and Ken Giles each tossed a scoreless frame.
George Springer was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and has been in a prolonged slump. It may get worse as the outfielder will be evaluated upon return to Houston for a sore back, the same ailment that is keeping Carlos Correa out of the lineup.
The season series is tied at three and the finale will come Sunday afternoon at 12:10 pm Central. It should be a good duel between ten-game winners, Charlie Morton (10-1) and Blake Snell (10-4). The Rays have pushed themselves back to .500 at 41-41. The Astros are just hoping to score more than two runs for the first time this weekend.
- Bob Hulsey