HOUSTON -- Hope floats until it lands. And when a popup off the bat of Yuli Gurriel landed in the outfield grass between Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Astros on Friday afternoon, what little remaining
HOUSTON -- Hope floats until it lands. And when a popup off the bat of Yuli Gurriel landed in the outfield grass between Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Astros on Friday afternoon, what little remaining hope the Rays had of stealing the opener landed with it.
On a day in which the Rays were “Verlander-ed,” in the words of Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, it’s hard to say the two-run error attributed to Lowe was itself responsible for the 6-2 loss. Justin Verlander’s seven brilliant scoreless innings had just a little bit to do with that.
But the mix-up amid the din of Minute Maid Park was a sad signature moment on a day when nothing really clicked for Tampa Bay, a team ordinarily -- and necessarily -- deft on defense. For the record, the Rays' Win Probability went from 18%, when trailing just 2-0, to 8% when Gurriel reached safely and Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman scooted home to make it 4-0.
“It’s a pivotal point in the ballgame,” Meadows said. “You’ve got to put it behind you.”
• Astros, experience conquer Rays in ALDS Game 1
Should Meadows have taken charge? Or was he called off by Lowe?
The stories differed postgame, with the right fielder and second baseman respectfully deferential to each other.
The Rays could only agree on one thing.
“I think we all recognize that that's got to be an out,” Cash said.
It wasn’t, and it capped a four-run inning from which Tampa Bay did not recover.
The inning had already roiled the Rays when Jose Altuve smacked Tyler Glasnow’s top-of-the-zone, 97.5-mph fastball into the Crawford Boxes for the two-run dinger that broke the scoreless tie. With the way Verlander was throwing (Tampa Bay didn’t get a hit until the top of the fifth), 2-0 felt bigger than usual.
And when Brantley singled and Bregman doubled off rookie reliever Brendan McKay, the closed-roof confines of Minute Maid got louder still. The Rays might have calmed the conditions, for McKay struck out presumptive AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Yordan Alvarez and Chaz Roe got Gurriel to hit what ought to have been the inning-ending popout. But the ball sailed into uncovered terrain.
With Meadows playing deep, Lowe sprinted toward the ball from second.
“When the ball was in the air, I took a look to see where Austin was and saw that this was going to be kind of no-man’s-land kind of play,” Lowe said. “I knew that I probably had one of the best shots to make the play and, last minute, I just didn’t make the play. That’s completely on me, that’s not on anybody else.”
In Meadows’ defense, Lowe did wave his glove to indicate the play was his (verbal communication, even if employed, would not have been of much use in this building), only to let it fall past his outstretched leather.
But in Lowe’s defense, a play like that typically belongs to the forward-facing right fielder.
“It was a tough play for Brandon to go back and try to get that,” Meadows said. “I’ve got to take charge, and I just didn’t. It resulted in two runs, so it is what it is. Just learn from it and move on.”
Again, it’s hard to know what the Rays would have accomplished had the play been made and the score been held to 2-0. They did plate two in the eighth off reliever Ryan Pressly, but by that point, the Astros had added another pair off Oliver Drake in the seventh to go up 6-0. And anyway, there is that so-called butterfly effect to prevent us from making any alternate outcome assumptions.
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, the loser of Game 1 has gone on to take the series just 37 of 132 times (28 percent). In the Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams losing Game 1 on the road took the series just nine of 40 times (23 percent).
All we know is that when you face pitching this good, in a series with stakes this high, the outs must be made if hope of an ALDS upset is to be maintained.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.