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Qualls sets tone for bullpen by escaping jam

Astros relievers hold Rays off the board during walk-off win

HOUSTON -- Already down, 2-1, and on the hook for his first home loss of the season, starter Dallas Keuchel left Wednesday's 3-2 victory for the Astros after just six pitches in the eighth inning, having surrendered consecutive singles to Curt Casali and Brandon Guyer, bringing up the heart of the Rays' order.

Disappointed in how his night ended, Keuchel was nonetheless relieved to hand the game over to what he terms an underrated six-man bullpen -- starting with Chad Qualls -- whom some of the six call the tone-setter.

The 37-year-old fanned Desmond Jennings before Evan Longoria's seeing-eye single loaded the bases with one out. Qualls slammed the door, striking out Logan Forsythe and Asdrubal Cabrera on seven pitches to subdue the threat and start a streak of six scoreless innings the bullpen would toss.

"I've been in any situation," Qualls said. "I try to take a deep breath and take every pitch separately. You come in there and do your job. ... Try to make quality pitches and let the ball bounce the way it does. We've been throwing the ball well as a unit -- starters, relievers, everybody else. It was a big win tonight for everybody. A huge win for the ballclub."

The bullpen would allow just two baserunners after Longoria's single.

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"He's been there so many times and he knows what it takes to get it done," said reliever Josh Fields, who picked up the win. "He came in in a big situation right there and shut it down for us to be able to get back in there and swing it again. I really do feel like that set the tone and helped the rest of us to say 'Hey, you know what? We need to come in here and do our job and what we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win the game.'"

Qualls, who spent 14 games on the disabled list in late June, lamented not speaking up sooner about the nagging neck injury that put him there. The pinched nerve prevented him from getting full extension in his delivery, leaving him unable to locate his slider or sinker down and away.

Qualls used the slider to elicit the swinging strikeout on both Forsythe and Cabrera, and the healthy neck enabled him to locate it with ease.

"I should have spoke up a lot sooner to get healthy," Qualls said. "It's just easier to get to that location. My body's not working as hard to get the ball down and away, I'm not working as hard to throw my slider down and away. That effectively makes it easier to throw the ball that way and your body makes it easier to get there."

A 12-year veteran with World Series experience, Qualls was hesitant to call himself a tone-setter, instead heaping praise on other members of an Astros bullpen that had the third-lowest ERA in the American League coming into Wednesday's game.

"That's six guys right there who are pretty good and they can interchange any point," Keuchel said. "That's very comfortable for the starters to hand the ball off to those guys."

Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for
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