Houston's march for postseason glory began Friday afternoon with a 6-2 triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park. Justin Verlander tossed seven innings of one-hit shutout baseball, fanning eight and walking three. After Ryan Pressly struggled in the eighth, allowing two runs, Will Harris got the key out then Roberto Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to close it out.
Verlander: 7 IP, 1 hit
The offense put up some threats against Tampa starter Tyler Glasnow but did break through until the long ball came to the rescue. Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa spanked two-out singles in the second but Robinson Chirinos drilled a liner to left that Tommy Pham was able to flag down.
Houston loaded the bases in the third on two walks and a disputed infield single but Glasnow struck out Yordan Alvarez to keep the game scoreless.
Finally, the Astros broke through in the bottom of the fifth. New daddy Josh Reddick walked but George Springer struck out. Jose Altuve jumped on a 1-1 pitch from Glasnow and tomahawked it into the Crawford Boxes for a 2-0 lead.
Brendan McKay took over from Glasnow and gave up a single to Michael Brantley and a double to Alex Bregman. After Alvarez struck out, the Rays turned to Chaz Roe for the final out. Gurriel popped up a 1-2 pitch down the right field line which clanked off of second baseman Brandon Lowe's glove as two runs came home for a 4-0 lead.
Houston padded the lead in the seventh when Bregman drew a two-out walk, stole second and came home on an Alvarez double to center. Gurriel sent another bloop down the right field line which landed fair then hopped into the stands for an RBI ground-rule double that pushed the advantage to 6-0.
It really wasn't panic time when Pressly gave up a two-out rally to Tampa in the eighth but there were two on when Harris came in and coaxed a grounder to third from Ji-Man Choi to end the uprising.
The two teams return to action on Saturday night in an 8:07 pm Central start. Gerrit Cole (20-5) will battle last year's Cy Young winner Blake Snell (6-8) who has battled injuries after signing a big contract extension.
The Houston roster for the division series was announced before the game. Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke lead the pitching staff of eleven while the 14-man squad of non-pitchers included versatile Myles Straw and hot prospect Kyle Tucker.
Winning Game 1 of the best-of-five series means the Rays will now have to win three of the next four games to survive the series. With Verlander and Cole likely to return for games four and five if necessary, Tampa has an uphill climb ahead of them.
- Bob Hulsey