The Tampa Bay Rays forced Game Five in their American League Division Series with the Houston Astros after a 4-1 win on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay jumped Houston in the first inning with three early runs, before big defensive plays negated the Astros through the middle period of the game.
Tommy Pham had three hits, including a home run, with Willy Adames also going big for his third extra-base hit of the series.
Houston finally broke through at the top of the eighth with a solo homer from Robinson Chirinos, but the Rays rearguard proved too strong on the night.
With the series tied at 2-2, the teams return to Minute Maid Park on Thursday to determine who advances to the ALCS to face the New York Yankees. The loser will see their 2019 season come to an end.
Three takeaways from the Rays' big win
Starting Justin Verlander backfired for the Astros
Justin Verlander pushed for Houston to start him in Game Four on three days' rest, but he struggled with command and movement against Tampa Bay. He consistently sailed balls high and his sliders simply weren't sliding. When you throw as many balls right down the pipe as Verlander did, you're bound to get punished.
His first inning was drawn out as he gave up a home run, allowed three scores and threw 32 pitches. Although the 36-year-old held the Rays scoreless in the second inning, he gave up a second home run in the fourth inning before being pulled. He finished after throwing 84 pitches in 3 2/3 innings of work.
Verlander entered Tuesday with an 8-0 career record and 2.14 ERA in 12 ALDS appearances but was short of peak form this time. That really hurt his team.
Nearly all Rays batters contributed on offense
Tampa Bay totalled 13 hits against Houston's pitching from eight of their 10 batters. Only Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi were held hitless, but Choi managed to get on base by being walked three times.
Avisail Garcia had three hits and Pham added three. Pham and Adames both hit home runs and accounted for the Rays' four RBIs alongside Joey Wendle and Travis D'Arnaud.
Tampa Bay's line-up proved good from top to bottom at the plate and made the most of the opportunities they got.
Don't underestimate Tampa Bay's pitching
Houston had one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball, as they scored the third-most runs in MLB (920) in 2019. But the Rays were able to hold the Astros to their lowest run total of the postseason.
Tampa Bay's pitching performance was a group effort that utilised six different arms. They combined for eight strikeouts and only allowed a score on Chirinos' solo shot in the eighth inning. The Rays bullpen will certainly be important in Game 5 at Minute Maid Park.
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