Rays Edge Astros In LCS Opener

Altuve: Good start to sour finish
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
Houston outhit Tampa Bay in Sunday's A.L.C.S. opener at Petco Park in San Diego but narrowly lost, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series. It appeared the Astros' bats were still hot from their LDS win over Oakland when Jose Altuve drilled a homer off Blake Snell as the game's second batter but he'd be the only Houston player to cross the plate for the rest of the evening.

Snell was not sharp but gutted through five innings with six hits and two walks allowed then watched a quartet of relievers tease the Astros with baserunners (six in four innings) yet kept Houston off the scoreboard. Houston stranded 10 runners on the night and were 2-of-8 with runners in scoring position.

Framber Valdez worked six innings, giving up four hits and four walks while striking out eight. Talented Cuban newcomer Randy Arozarena lined a solo homer to center off Valdez in the fourth then catcher Mike Zunino delivered what turned out to be the game-winner with an RBI single in the fifth.

The Astros had their chances to score, including an eighth-inning threat with the bases full and just one out but Yuli Gurriel hit into a double play to kill the rally. Josh Reddick singled in the ninth off Diego Castillo and his pinch-runner reached as far as second before Castillo fanned Altuve for the final out.

There's little time to relax before the two clubs are back at work Monday in a 3:07 Central start time in San Diego. Lance McCullers (3-3) will challenge ex-Astro Charlie Morton (2-2). Back in 2017, it was McCullers and Morton who teamed up to win Game 7 of the World Series in Los Angeles. Now, they'll be pitching from opposite sides.

Both Houston and Tampa Bay made roster moves before the LCS began, knowing they may have to play seven games in seven days. Houston added pitcher Chase De Jong to the playoff roster but it's hoped he won't be needed since the Twins cast-off carries a 14.73 ERA (in 7-1/3rd innings) into post-season play. De Jong could become the "white flag" pitcher if the Astros are losing a blow-out. Unused outfielder Chas McCormick was deleted from the roster.

The Rays had the A.L.'s best record in the regular season, mostly due to solid pitching. The Astros will have to find a way to break through against the Rays moundsmen while holding back Tampa's offense if they are to find their way back to the World Series. On Sunday night, they did half the job.

- Bob Hulsey