The harder the Astros hit the ball, the more plays the Rays made. It didn’t matter whether it was Alex Bregman sending a 394-foot fly ball to center field that was caught at the wall by a leaping Kevin Kiermaier, or third baseman Joey Wendle scooping up a 110.9 mph
The harder the Astros hit the ball, the more plays the Rays made. It didn’t matter whether it was Alex Bregman sending a 394-foot fly ball to center field that was caught at the wall by a leaping Kevin Kiermaier, or third baseman Joey Wendle scooping up a 110.9 mph rocket off the bat of Carlos Correa in the sixth inning.
The Rays seemed to be everywhere, throwing themselves all over Petco Park to make every play against the Astros, who could make the argument they outplayed Tampa Bay in the first two games of the American League Championship Series. That was certainly the case through the first five innings in Game 3 on Tuesday before everything went awry for Houston.
“It’s just relentless,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “We use that word offensively a lot, but I think we show we can show it in all facets of the game.”
Another throwing error by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve -- his third in two games -- again proved costly as it helped the Rays send 11 batters to the plate in the sixth inning and score five runs to pull away for a 5-2 win and a 3-0 lead in the ALCS.
“When your defense is that solid for three games in a row with that pitching staff, good things are going to happen, and that’s what they’ve been doing,” Correa said.
In postseason history, teams taking a 3-0 lead in any best-of-seven series have gone on to win 37 of 38 times (97 percent). The 2004 Red Sox, in the ALCS against the Yankees, are the only team to rally after losing the first three games. Of the 37 teams to win after going ahead 3-0, 30 have completed the sweep in Game 4, five have finished it off in Game 5 and two have won it in Game 6.
“We have a tough challenge ahead of us, but this is a special team,” said Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, who homered in the sixth. “Never count us out.”
The salt-in-the wound moment for the Astros, who had crushed the ball for two days in a row with little to show for it, came when Hunter Renfroe capped the five-run outburst in the sixth with a two-run bloop double that came off the bat at 68.4 mph -- the Rays’ softest extra-base hit of the season.
“The big hit has been eluding us the whole series, and it seems like they get whatever they want,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Then the pinch-hitter bloops one to right field and scores two runs. So far, things haven't gone our way. We really got our backs up against the wall. It's a steep mountain to climb, but it's not impossible. We just gotta tighten our belts, put our big boy pants on and come out fighting tomorrow.”
The Astros couldn’t buy that kind of fortune. Here’s proof:
• The Astros are 4-for-24 with runners in scoring position in the series with 31 runners left on base. None of the four hits with runners in scoring position scored a run, though. Of the five runs they’ve scored this series, four have been on solo homers and the fifth was a ninth-inning double play with the bases loaded off the bat of George Springer in Game 2.
• The Astros are the first team in postseason history to score two or fewer runs in three consecutive games despite having 12-plus baserunners in each game when including hits, walks and hit by pitches. Houston has outhit the Rays, 26-18, in the series.
• The Astros have 31 hard-hit batted balls in three games and have 12 hits off those. By contrast, the Rays have 21 hard-hit batted balls and have nine hits off those. The Astros had a 90 mph average exit velocity in Games 1-2 and 86.3 mph in Game 3, while the Rays had an 88.1 mph average exit velocity in Games 1-2 and 84.6 mph in Game 3.
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What’s more, the Astros are also wasting good starting pitching (four earned runs in 18 innings). Jose Urquidy gave Houston its third consecutive solid start in the ALCS. He carried a shutout into the fifth inning and had a 1-0 lead on the strength of Altuve’s 17th career playoff homer in the first. Things unraveled quickly in a messy sixth.
After Randy Arozarena led off with a single, Brandon Lowe hit a grounder to Altuve, who tried to throw to second to get the lead runner. Altuve bounced the throw past shortstop Correa for an error that put two on with no outs. A two-run single by Wendle put the Rays ahead, Enoli Paredes hit Willy Adames with the bases loaded and Renfroe blooped his double to right. Suddenly, it was 5-1.
“Nobody feels worse than Jose,” Baker said. “He takes it very serious and takes it to heart. He's one of ours, and we've all been through this before; not in this spotlight like this. It hurts us all to see him hurting. And we will give him all the support that he needs.”
And even when the Astros rallied in the eighth inning by loading the bases with one out, it was Renfroe making a diving catch in right field -- his second of the game -- to rob Kyle Tucker on a looping liner that had an expected batting average of .830.
“Those were game-saving, game-changing plays that he made,” Cash said.
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The Astros had the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning of Games 1 and 2, and they had the tying run and the plate in the ninth inning in Game 3. They’ll have to find a way to get some balls through the Rays’ defense on Wednesday or their season is over.
“It hurts to know that you come so close in winning all three games,” Baker said.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.