The Margot Show Puts Tampa Up, 2-0

Margotit despite the tumble
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In golf, they call it "the yips". That's what happens when an athlete suddenly finds routine plays to be enormous challenges like a basketball player who can't hit lay-ups or a punter who suddenly keeps shanking his kicks. In golf, it's missing the easy putts near the hole. The athlete begins trying to think through what he used to do instinctively and it tends to make the situation worse.

It's been a very rough year for Jose Altuve. The Astros' All-Star second-sacker was the public face of two cheating scandals this past winter - one of which he tried to beg out of and the other was never proven. Once finally back on the field again in July, the hitting wasn't right (career lows .219 batting average and .629 OPS). Adding to his heartache, the simple act of playing his position was becoming a mental strain. He led A.L. second basemen in errors (4) during the shortened season and committed two throwing errors on Monday in the 4-2 loss to Tampa that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series in San Diego. Altuve now has three errors in the postseason.

The first one was costly as his throw on a Gi-Man Choi bouncer to short right field skipped at the feet of Yuli Gurriel at first who was unable to field it cleanly. That would have been the third out but, given the chance to extend the inning, outfielder Manuel Margot teed off on Lance McCullers with a three-run homer over the center field fence.

Margot added to his new legacy when he raced into the right field corner to chase a foul fly off the bat of George Springer with two on and two out in the second. The former San Diego Padre snared the ball then flipped over a railing into a concrete culvert yet managed to hang onto the ball for the out. That's the way Houston's luck has gone so far this series.

Former Astro Charlie Morton made the three-run lead stand for five innings as Houston spent another day stranding ducks on the pond like they were property of the San Diego Zoo. Carlos Correa finally broke the stalemate with a solo homer to left off reliever Peter Fairbanks in the sixth but the Rays got that run right back with a solo shot from catcher Mike Zunino off McCullers in the seventh.

Losing pitcher McCullers was generally outstanding, working seven innings and giving up four runs on four hits with no walks and eleven strikeouts. For the second straight game, the Astros set up some scoring opportunities against Morton and his four relievers but simply couldn't punch home the runs they needed. Houston has left 21 runners on the basepaths in two games and are 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

The Astros have outhit Tampa, 19-10.

The suspect pitching corps has played over their heads in the first two games yet still have two losses. The batters have had their moments during the series but, unfortunately, "clutch" can't be used to describe them.

Now needing to win four of their next five to advance to the World Series, the Astros turn to Jose Urquidy (1-1) to stop the losing streak while Tampa Bay will summon Austin-born lefthander Ryan Yarbrough (1-4) in a 7:40 Central time start on TBS.

Finally, we at extend prayers and sympathies to the friends and family of former Astro All-Star Joe Morgan who passed away on Sunday. Morgan was the first Astro player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY that had played a significant part of his career (1963-71, 1980) with Houston. He led the Astros into their first postseason in 1980.

In the space of seven months, the Astros family have lost three of their brightest African-American stars with Jimmy Wynn and Bob Watson passing before Morgan. Only God knows the timing of men's deaths but the baseball-loving Black community of Houston has been hit especially hard in 2020. A recent spate of Hall-of-Famers have also recently passed away from Lou Brock and Bob Gibson to Whitey Ford and Tom Seaver before Morgan's death.

- Bob Hulsey