ST. PETERSBURG -- Desmond Jennings flung his helmet off his head right as he stepped past the bag. The Astros had only just begun to celebrate by second base as Jennings took a long, lonely walk back to the dugout.His game-ending double play sharply ended the high drama of the
ST. PETERSBURG -- Desmond Jennings flung his helmet off his head right as he stepped past the bag. The Astros had only just begun to celebrate by second base as Jennings took a long, lonely walk back to the dugout.
His game-ending double play sharply ended the high drama of the ninth inning. The tying run, Taylor Motter, was at third with less than two outs. The Rays had already scored one run, but Jennings couldn't tie it in a 4-3 Astros win on Saturday at Tropicana Field.
"It was needed," said Astros reliever Will Harris, who allowed just his second run this season when Steven Souza Jr. drove in Logan Morrison on a sacrifice fly to center field with no outs in the ninth. "Nobody wants to give up runs that can cost your team a win. It was just a little sigh of relief there."
Rays manager Kevin Cash felt the sting of a near-miss.
"Difficult ballgame, obviously," Cash said. "Love the way the guys competed there all the way to the end. Not enough and too late."
It was a pitchers' duel all afternoon, and when the Rays scored, the Astros often followed with a run of their own. Rays starter Chris Archer went 7 2/3 innings and threw 118 pitches. He walked off the mound to a standing ovation with the score tied at two.
Astros starter Mike Fiers was more efficient than Archer, but he was burned by the long ball. He needed just 85 pitches to get through his seven innings. Brad Miller blasted a ball near his feet for his first home run in 83 at-bats. Then Evan Longoria hit the catwalk for his team-leading 15th homer of the season.
But Carlos Gomez tied the game in the top of the seventh with a 443-foot homer, just his third of the year. And in the eighth, a single, walk, hit by pitch and wild pitch on a slider by Erasmo Ramirez -- all with two outs -- gave the Astros the 3-2 lead.
"I just couldn't find the strike zone," Ramirez said. "Couldn't find the right pitch in the right moment ... Some days it's gonna happen. It happened today."
Luis Valbuena belted a home run to lead off the ninth inning against reliever Dana Eveland, and it proved to be the difference in the game. The Rays got the bases loaded with no outs against Harris in the ninth, but he escaped the jam to preserve the win.
"We're in a position to win a lot of games, and we've got to continue to feel good about ourselves in these close games," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't need any good feelings on a close game. We just need more wins."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pleasantly wild: The Astros took advantage of Ramirez's gaffes in the eighth to grab a 3-2 lead. After Ramirez entered with two outs and Marwin Gonzalez at first base, Ramirez hit Jose Altuve and walked Colby Rasmus on five pitches. Then Gonzalez scored when Ramirez threw a wild pitch with Evan Gattis batting.
Arch-way: Archer allowed three runs and continued his midseason progression. He didn't want to talk about his start, but he was effective and had his second longest outing of the season in a game in which he was charged with the loss.
"You saw bits and pieces of his stuff coming at different times," Cash said. "It seemed like he really meshed everything together to give us an outstanding start." More >
Gomez goes long: Gomez helped the Astros escape their offensive malaise against Archer. His solo home run to center field with two outs in the seventh tied the score at two and gave Houston momentum. After totaling no home runs through 124 at-bats in April and May, Gomez has three homers in June.
"I crushed that ball," Gomez said. "It was to straight center, but I know when I'm hitting the ball right, it's going to be a home run, for sure. I was looking for some pitch, and he threw that pitch. I hit it hard."
• Astros' offensive production on the rise
C ya later: One night after striking the C-ring catwalk at Tropicana Field, Longoria did it again. On Friday, it was initially ruled a home run until it was overturned and called a foul ball. On Saturday, his shot was a no-doubt homer to put the Rays up 2-1 in the sixth inning.
"I don't really want to talk about myself. It's not about me. Let's skip that for tonight." -- Archer
"He was pretty juiced. That's pretty good emotion for him. And the last out of the game will do that for you, especially when he walked himself into trouble." -- Hinch, describing Harris' reaction after the game-ending double play
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The four runs by the Astros broke a streak of 13 consecutive games in which Tampa Bay held Houston to three or fewer runs. It was the Rays' longest such streak in team history against any opponent.
Steve Pearce had three hits for the third consecutive start. He's the first Ray to do that this season.
In the sixth, the Astros challenged a call that a pitch hit Morrison. The ruling on the field stood, and the review lasted one minute, 28 seconds.
Astros: Left-hander Dallas Keuchel starts in the series finale against the Rays at 12:10 p.m. CT on Sunday at Tropicana Field. Keuchel (3-8, 5.44 ERA) has a 3.98 ERA in his past three starts. He is winless in five career outings against the Rays, and he had a 3.21 ERA in two appearances against them last season.
Rays: Left-hander Matt Moore (2-4, 5.56 ERA) will go for the Rays in the last game of the series against the Astros at 1:10 p.m. ET. Moore was efficient in his last start against the D-backs, but he allowed five runs on two homers. He has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA in his career against the Astros.
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Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.
Andrew Astleford is a contributor to MLB.com.