HOUSTON -- First came the hits. Then came the texts.
By the time Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was pulled in the third inning of a 6-1 loss to the Astros on Thursday night in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park, the damage had been done, and there was no going back. But Glasnow had a sneaking suspicion that something was askew when the ‘Stros opened the bottom of the first inning with five hits and four runs before they made their second out.
“I came back to my locker,” Glasnow said, “and I had about 9,000 texts about it.”
“It” was one of a pitcher’s worst nightmares: the dreaded tell. Glasnow said he has occasionally fallen into a pattern of a higher glove height when setting his hands before throwing a fastball and a lower glove height before throwing his curveball. This time, that small issue showed up on the big stage and became a big problem.
As soon as Glasnow saw the texts, he watched the video from his start.
“It was pretty obvious,” he said. “That’s what hurts the most. Just something small like that can make such a big difference. I’m not trying to make the excuse. I don’t know if they had it or didn’t, but from what I could see, it was pretty obvious.”
Glasnow had his usual 98-mph velocity and good movement on his curveball. But an Astros team that had been uncharacteristically quiet in this series jumped him.
George Springer led off with a single on a four-seamer. Michael Brantley laid off a tempting curve that dived below the zone, then ambushed a 1-1 fastball in the lower third for a single. José Altuve, ordinarily aggressive on first pitches, watched a curveball that hit the bottom edge of the zone for strike one, then swatted a 98-mph fastball above the letters for an RBI single. Alex Bregman was all over a 1-1 curve that he ripped for a two-run double. And Yuli Gurriel smacked an 0-1 curve to score Bregman on a single.
Four runs on five hits. This all happened in the span of 17 pitches. After Bregman crossed the plate, he could be seen whispering to Carlos Correa, who was waiting on deck. Hitting coach Alex Cintrón could be seen making motions to his hitters, pointing to his eyes and holding his left hand like a glove.
The Astros didn’t confirm any of this after the game, and, to be clear, they are a nightly threat to do serious damage against any pitcher, tell or no tell. But they sure seemed to have picked up on Glasnow’s tell.
“No, no, no,” Bregman said when asked if Glasnow was tipping. “He's as tough to face as anybody, I think if you went around and asked everybody on our team. It was just a team approach today. It was just one at-bat after another. … I feel like with him you just had to pick a pitch and try to put a pretty good swing on it.”
Houston did a particularly good job of picking them.
“At the end of the day, it's 98 and it's a breaking ball,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “You've still got to do your job with it, and they certainly did.”
The four-run first was basically the ballgame, given how dominant Gerrit Cole was once again. In the Rays’ clubhouse in the aftermath, there was pride for a deep run and a great fight against a great Astros team. But for Glasnow, there was regret over how he let a small issue potentially make a big difference in the outcome.
“I don’t know if they had it or they didn’t,” Glasnow said. "I don’t know if it would have been any different if they didn’t. But to me, it was pretty obvious.”