Rays battle to claim intense finale in Houston

Choi clutch as d'Arnaud drives in 4; Pagan secures seven-out save

August 29th, 2019

HOUSTON -- With September just around the corner and the playoff race starting to heat up, every remaining game will be magnified for a Rays team trying to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

The Rays entered Thursday’s game against the Astros on a four-game skid, and it appeared that the team was headed for a fifth straight defeat as allowed a go-ahead solo home run to Jose Altuve in the sixth inning.

But in a game that saw five lead changes and five ties, the Rays were able to deliver the big blow, as a three-run seventh inning and a key run in the eighth helped propel Tampa Bay to a 9-8 win at Minute Maid Park.

“We needed to find a way to win,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Certainly there’s a lot of guys in the clubhouse that should feel really good about themselves because we competed and picked each other up in many ways. We needed a win, and we got it.”

led off the seventh inning with a single, which was followed by an one-out double that put the go-ahead run in scoring position. delivered with an RBI single to even the score at 6, setting things up for , who gave the Rays an 8-6 lead with a two-run double.

Jose De Leon and combined to hold the Astros to one run in the seventh inning -- with some defensive help from Choi, who made an over-the-shoulder catch to rob Altuve of a potential game-tying single.

“Game-saving catch,” Cash said. “There were a lot of game-saving situations, and defensively that’s right at the top of the list. He’s looked good on those plays going back. He seems to have some comfort."

Choi was a bright spot all series for the Rays, going 4-for-11 with one home run and four RBIs and delivering multiple stellar defensive plays.

“I’m not really focused on my results,” Choi said, through interpreter Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong. “I’m more focused on our team doing better, and that’s the most important thing I’m thinking about right now.”

The Rays' offense certainly responded after scoring just one run in the series opener on Tuesday, recording 14 hits on Thursday and combining to score 15 runs over the last two games despite facing two of the best pitchers in the American League in Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke.

played a huge role in the offensive outburst, recording three hits and four RBIs, including a two-run home run. d’Arnaud came into Thursday’s game hitting just .212 in August.

“It shows how good of a whole offensive unit we have,” d’Arnaud said. “From top to bottom, if guys get out, they come in and tell the next hitter what they saw, which gives us a huge advantage. … It’s huge to show none of us give up and we all fight.”

In the eighth, Meadows -- who hit his 24th home run in the third inning -- delivered what proved to be an important run with an RBI fielder's choice. Pagan served up Astros prospect Abraham Toro's first Major League homer in the ninth before shutting the door with a career-high seven-out save.

“I told [pitching coach Kyle] Snyder right when I came out of that seventh inning that I wanted to finish it,” Pagan said. “As a team, everybody had to do a little bit extra today. That’s an unbelievable club on that side of the field. We knew it was going to be a grind.”

“Extremely impressive,” Cash added. "[Pagan] had a good fastball going, had command where he wanted, got ahead of guys, attacked, and the strike percentage was there.”

It was a much-needed win for a Rays club that has been struggling of late and is looking to keep pace with the A’s and Indians, who both won on Thursday, in the American League Wild Card race.

The Rays remain one game behind the A’s for the second Wild Card spot and are 2 1/2 games behind the Indians, who travel to Tropicana Field for a pivotal three-game series beginning Friday.

“It was a big win to be able to have this momentum going against the Indians,” d’Arnaud said. “They’re a great team, too. So to come out with a win where the lead kept changing and we never gave up, it’ll be a battle these next few days.”