ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite facing an 0-2 series deficit, the Rays talked about the confidence in the clubhouse. They have been a resilient group and they were going to have to rally as they faced their tallest task of the season.
But for the Rays to turn this American League Division Series into a fight, it was going to have to start with their offense. After being quieted by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the first two games in Houston, the challenge didn’t get any easier with Zack Greinke, a six-time All-Star, on the mound, but the Rays felt that playing at Tropicana Field for the first time since Sept. 25 would give them an advantage.
The Rays proved to be right as they used four home runs and a four-run fourth inning to get past the Astros, 10-3, in Game 3 of the ALDS on Monday afternoon. Tampa Bay trails the best-of-five series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
Teams trailing 2-1 in any best-of-five series have come back to win 23 of 84 times (27%). In the history of Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams trailing 2-1 and set to play Game 4 at home have advanced eight of 28 times (29%). The Rays would be just the 11th team to advance after being in an 0-2 hole in a five-game series, should they complete the comeback.
“We have fought each and every day since Opening Day this season,” said Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. “There’s no quit in these guys. You know, just what we’ve done, especially the last two or three weeks, some of the wins that we’ve had, just pulled them out of nowhere. Just shows the character in our clubhouse from top to bottom, and that’s just the way it’s been all year.”
After being spotted a one-run lead on a José Altuve home run in the first inning, Greinke needed just nine pitches to get through the opening frame against a Rays lineup desperate for some momentum.
After Greinke’s efficient first, the Rays finally put those offensive frustrations to rest with Kiermaier’s three-run home run in the second. The homer gave them a two-run lead, sent the nearly sold-out crowd into a frenzy and gave Tampa Bay some added confidence.
“We're a much better team when we play with the lead,” Kiermaier said. “There's probably most teams in baseball like that. But whenever we get a lead early, you can just tell how everyone just kind of relaxes throughout the whole lineup.”
“That brought our momentum back in the game,” Choi said, through team translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “After that, I felt like we were going to win the game tonight.”
Even with the stellar opening inning, the Rays were able to chase Greinke after just 3 2/3 innings, and then the offense began to pound the Astros' bullpen. In the fourth inning, Meadows added a two-run double to break the game open and Tommy Pham added on with an RBI single, pushing Tampa Bay's buffer to seven runs.
After Houston put up two runs in the sixth, Willy Adames added some late insurance with a solo home run -- the club's fourth of the day -- to give the Rays a six-run cushion in the bottom of the frame.
The four home runs tied a single-game postseason franchise record, tying Game 3 of the 2008 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox and Wednesday’s win over the A’s in the AL Wild Card Game. It was the first time the Rays hit four home runs in a playoff game at Tropicana Field.
It was also just the second time that the Rays have scored 10 or more runs in a postseason game, following Game 4 of the 2008 ALCS against the Red Sox.
“It was good for the guys to add on,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “The bats have been quiet. We talked about it for good reason. It was good for them to continue to add on and find a way to separate the game. Really, when they made it 8-3, for us to answer back again was nice.”
“I’ve seen this out of Charlie,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch. “When you get him early, get some opportunities early, you have to maximize them if you can. Same thing he did in the Wild Card Game. He settled in nicely and got them through five innings.”
Through the first two games, it was the Astros that came up with the timely hits and the quality pitching performance, but the Rays were able to flip the script on Monday. Tampa Bay still has some work to do on Tuesday in order to force a decisive Game 5 on Thursday in Houston, but the Rays understood that, in order to get back in the series, they had to win one game first.
Now that they’re in the win column, the Rays will hope to carry some of the same confidence into another win-or-go-home game on Tuesday, where they will face Verlander (pitching on short rest) for the second time in the series.
“We have him in our place now and hopefully it’s a different story,” Meadows said. “We’ll see what happens, but we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. He’s a great pitcher, and we’ll see where it lines up.”