The Houston Astros may be second-guessing themselves by starting Justin Verlander.
The Tampa Bay Rays jumped on the 2019 Cy Young candidate early in Game 4 of the American League Division Series en route to a 4-1 victory to force a decisive Game 5.
Verlander, who was starting on short rest for the first time in his 15-year career, was chased after 3⅔ innings. He allowed four runs, seven hits, including two home runs, and three walks on 84 pitches.
That was it for Verlander.
The Rays bullpen and defense did the rest.
Rays manager Kevin Cash employed the ‘opener’ for Game 4 and used six pitchers to keep the Astros offense at bay. Diego Castillo, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Colin Poche, Emilio Pagan, and Blake Snell combined for six hits, one earned run and eight strikeouts.
The Rays took care of business at home and outscored the Astros 14-4 at Tropicana Field.
They been underdogs all season, despite winning 96 games in the AL East. But now, they have put the rest of the league on notice.
“I’m just happy that, you know, everybody gets to see it now,” said Rays shortstop Willy Adames. “Hopefully, they’ll start talking better about us.”
Three days rest, three earned runs. First inning.
It started early.
Starting on three days’ rest, Verlander labored in the first inning with 32 pitches. He gave up a solo home run to DH Tommy Pham on a 2-2 change, but the Rays weren’t done. Ji-Man Choi walked. Avisaíl García singled. Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-out single to bring Choi home. Joey Wendle followed with an RBI single. Rays led 3-0.
“He’s still the best,” said Cash. “There’s no denying that. But four days, five days, whatever it was later, you know, some of those same pitches maybe replayed a little bit and we were able to have some quality ABs and hit some balls hard.”
Since 1995, pitchers starting on three days’ rest or less since their last start in the postseason had gone a combined 30-44 with a 4.58 ERA across 120 games, according to STATS.
Play of the game
With the Astros looking for a spark in the fourth inning, the Rays thwarted a potential rally and saved a run with the perfect relay. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, shortstop Willy Adames and catcher d’Arnaud teamed up to throw out Jose Altuve at home plate to keep Houston scoreless.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” said Cash. “I mean, you cannot execute or relay any better than that, from KK to Willy, T.D.’s tag.”
Said Pham: “Plays like that, it’s contagious. When one of your teammates makes a great play, it usually leads to more great plays.”
Man of the moment
After a 3-for-3 day, including a home run, in Game 3, Adames was back at it in Game 4. In the top of the fourth, he made a perfect relay throw home to nail Altuve at the plate. And a half inning later, he hit a solo home run off Verlander, ending his night.
In an uncharacteristic start, Verlander allowed four batted balls with a 100+ mph exit velocity in the first inning alone. That’s tied for the most he’s allowed in any inning tracked by Statcast since 2015. He’s done it just twice before, and not since 2017. And in Game 1, he threw 100 pitches and didn’t allow one batted ball over 100 mph.
State of the Series
The Rays evened the series two games apiece against the mighty Astros. Game 5 returns to Houston on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.
The Rays offense will have yet another tall test against Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was electric in his Game 2 start. Cole dominated and became one of seven pitchers to record 15 strikeouts in a playoff game, and only Bob Gibson (17 strikeouts, 1968) and Kevin Brown (16, 1998) have had more.
The Rays will turn to Tyler Glasnow, who was 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts.
Said Cash: “You’re going to see unbelievable power stuff coming out of two teams on Thursday. But we’re excited.”