Astros Fall Again To Rays, 5-2
Series Clincher May Come Wednesday

Urquidy: Five solid innings
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
It's like Groundhog Day in San Diego. The Astros take a narrow 1-0 lead early. Suffer a meltdown inning. Flail away when runners are in scoring position. Tip their caps to Tampa's pitchers. The script happened again Tuesday as the Rays pulled within one win of an A.L.C.S. sweep of the Astros in a 5-2 verdict. Game Four will be Wednesday at 7:40 p.m. Central as Tampa is preparing to be in their first World Series since 2008.

A first-inning solo homer by Jose Altuve and a sixth-inning shot by Michael Brantley accounted for the two Houston runs. As for scoring any other way? Fuhgeddabout it. The Astros stranded ten baserunners and were 1-for-8 when runners were in scoring position, echoing the problems they had the first two games.

Then there was the sterling Tampa defense which included a home run robbery by Kevin Kiermaier off the bat of Alex Bregman and some outfield grabs.

Another throwing error by Jose Altuve, his fourth of the postseason, contributed to the five-run meltdown sixth inning that turned the ballgame. Starter Jose Urquidy skated through the first five frames unscored upon but Altuve's miscue opened the door for Joey Wendle's two-run single off Enoli Paredes, a bases-loaded run by hit batter and then a two-run double from Hunter Renfroe off reliever Brooks Raley. That rally essentially punched the Rays' ticket to Arlington.

Zack Greinke (3-3) will try to forestall the inevitable on Wednesday but he'll have to beat towering righthander Tyler Glasnow (5-1), whom the Astros overcame last year by reading his tipped pitches.

If Houston does win, they'll need to do it three more times just to reach the World Series. It will be ironic, in a way, that the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers may have both been looking ahead to a 2017 Series rematch and are, instead, being emphatically humbled by the Baseball Gods to less-heralded LCS opponents. The Dodgers have dropped the first two games of their League Championship Series to Atlanta.

Better start brushing up on your Southern idioms.

- Bob Hulsey