The Rays had another successful pitching performance beginning with an "opener." Ryne Stanek started with 1 2/3 scoreless innings and was followed by 6 1/3 solid innings from Ryan Yarbrough, who made his 11th relief appearance of three or more innings this season. However, the Rays couldn't get anything going offensively against Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr., a Tampa native.
"Those are the games we're going to have to win, especially against the best teams," Rays third baseman Matt Duffy said. "They were one run better than us tonight."
In the second, Tyler White drew a two-out walk, ending Stanek's outing. Brian McCann then singled sharply to center off Yarbrough, who hit the next batter, Jake Marisnick, in the thigh with an inside cutter to load the bases for George Springer. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Yarbrough got Springer to chase a 3-2 cutter up and out of the zone for strike three.
But Yarbrough wasn't so lucky in the fifth, when Marisnick unloaded on a 2-2 changeup with one out for his only run allowed. Before that, Rays pitchers had held opponents scoreless for 26 consecutive innings.
"It was all about execution," said Yarbrough, who walked one and struck out four. "I put it right in [Marisnick's] wheelhouse, and he put a good swing on it."
After having just two baserunners in the first five innings -- a two-out single by Willy Adames in the third and a C.J. Cron hit-by-pitch in the fifth -- the Rays threatened in the bottom of the sixth. Duffy slapped a two-out single through the right side of the infield and Jake Bauers walked. McCullers, who allowed three hits in seven innings, settled down to strike out Wilson Ramos with an assortment of offspeed pitches, ending the scoring chance.
"You've got to credit the pitcher," Cash said. "He came in and had a big night and made it very, very challenging for us."
Adames started another threat with a leadoff double in the eighth off Astros reliever Chris Devenski. Kevin Kiermaier followed with a bunt single to put runners on the corners with no outs. However, Duffy lined out to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who doubled up Kiermaier at first. Devenski then got Bauers to ground out to end the inning.
"That's unfortunate, but that's the way it goes sometimes," Cash said.
SOUND SMART Stanek has not allowed an earned run in six consecutive starts, tying the all-time record held by a trio of Dodgers -- Zack Greinke (June 18-July 19, 2015), Orel Hershiser (Sept. 5-28, 1998) and Don Drysdale (May 4-June 4, 1968). However, Stanek's stretch covered 8 2/3 innings, far fewer than Hershisher (55), Drysdale (54) and Greinke (43 2/3).
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS With Austin Pruitt on the mound in the ninth and a runner on second, Kiermaier made a diving catch on a line drive into the left-center-field gap off the bat of McCann, preventing a sure extra-base hit and helping to keep the Rays' deficit at one run.
"It's nice to have him back making plays like that," Cash said. "It's amazing the ground that he covers. He makes it look routine. It was game-changing to keep us in the ballgame right there."
According to Statcast™, Kiermaier had just a 15 percent chance of making the five-star catch after he had to cover 60 feet in 3.7 seconds.
HE SAID IT "I give a lot of credit to those guys buying into a very unique approach. It's been talked about a lot, but it's nice how they have come together. They've embraced it, and I think they've enjoyed it to some extent." Cash, on using relievers as "openers"
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY Houston wasted no time in using a challenge. Kiermaier, the leadoff man in the first, hit a slow roller against McCullers to the right side of the infield. Kiermaier was called safe after appearing to beat McCullers to the bag. After video showed that McCullers touched first base before Kiermaier did, the call was overturned.
UP NEXT The Rays continue their four-game set against the Astros on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Tampa Bay's Wilmer Font (1-3, 6.46 ERA) will match up against Houston's Gerrit Cole (9-1, 2.56). Since joining the Rays in a May 25 trade with the A's, Font is 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings, including 5 2/3 scoreless frames against the Yankees in his last start, during which he recorded his first Major League victory.