Confident Astros have 1 goal for G4: Finish it

Greinke can’t match rotation mates, yields 3 HRs in 3 2/3

October 8th, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- Astros starter couldn’t follow the lead of ace pitchers and , who dominated the Rays in the first two games of the American League Division Series. And now the best-of-five series has gotten a lot more interesting.

The Rays turned the table on Greinke and the Astros on Monday afternoon, slugging four homers en route to a 10-3 win in Game 3 at Tropicana Field that trimmed Houston’s lead in the series to 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Tuesday. The Astros will bring back Justin Verlander to start Game 4 on short rest to try to avoid a fifth game at Minute Maid Park on Thursday.

“They just outplayed us,” Astros third baseman said. “Hats off to them. Tomorrow we come and we finish the job.”

Greinke, pitching for the first time in 12 days, lasted only 3 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on five hits, including three homers in his 12th career playoff start. The big blow was a three-run homer by Kevin Kiermaier in the second inning that gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead and energized Tropicana Field. Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe added solo blasts off Greinke.

The Astros, meanwhile, got a first-inning homer from José Altuve -- his 10th in the playoffs in his career -- but they were otherwise shut down by their former teammate, Charlie Morton, who threw 31 pitches in the first inning before settling in.

“I was trying to put a good swing on the ball and I was trying to get on base,” Altuve said. “I hit the ball pretty good. It was a homer and I was happy to score the first run of the game, but sometimes that happens. That’s baseball. You score and don’t win the game, but tomorrow’s another game and it’s going to be big for us.”

Greinke lamented a pair of changeups he left over the plate to Kiermaier and Choi. During the regular season, he had given up three homers on changeups and four on curveballs. The three homers he allowed in Game 3 were the most by an Astros pitcher in the postseason.

“I feel like you take away those two changeups and the curveball to Lowe, he threw the ball pretty well,” catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “He was hitting corners. He was using all his pitches. He got those two changeups and those guys are able to put a swing on it.”

When asked what he could have done differently, Greinke said: “Not throw changeups down the middle.”

Morton, meanwhile, held Houston to one run on three hits and two walks in five innings to improve to 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA in four starts in potential elimination games. The Astros have seen him rise to the occasion before when he was wearing their uniform. Morton tossed five scoreless innings in a start to win Game 7 of the 2017 AL Championship Series against the Yankees and then threw four innings in relief to close out Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers 10 days later.

“I've seen this out of Charlie,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “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.”

The Astros, who watched Verlander and Cole combine for 23 strikeouts and just five hits allowed in 14 2/3 innings in the first two games of the series, will give the ball to Verlander on three days’ rest to try to close out the ALDS in a ballpark where they rarely win.

“We love it when he’s on the mound,” Bregman said.

Tropicana Field has been nothing short of a house of horrors for Houston, which is 9-19 all-time in the ballpark and has lost seven of its last eight games there. Behind Verlander, the Astros beat the Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field and then lost the next three games.

Teams trailing 2-1 in any best-of-five series have come back to win 23 of 84 times (27 percent). 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 percent).

“We just need to [turn] the page,” Chirinos said. “We have some good things to do tomorrow. Those guys came with a better approach today. Just have to learn from today and move to tomorrow and come and close those series tomorrow.”

The Astros mounted a brief rally in the sixth with Morton out of the game, cutting the lead to 8-3 on a two-run single by Yuli Gurriel, but Willy Adames clubbed the Rays’ fourth homer of the day in the bottom of the inning. Just like that, Tampa Bay is back in the series.

“I knew we were capable of being in this position, having success here as well,” Kiermaier said. “Tough first two games. Verlander and Cole were dominant. We're capable of doing what we did today. We have the talent to do just that, have an offensive outburst, and we know we're going to have a tough test again tomorrow.”