J.D. Martinez connected on Jamey Wright‘s hanging cutter and it seemed everything like the game was over. All the Rays’ efforts–outscoring the Astros 20-0 in the first two games, Chris Archer‘s strong start, Yunel Escobar‘s 2-run double–were about to go to waste and they were going to have to settle for an embarrassing split with the worst team in the American League. But the ball went foul by a few feet, one of a series of breaks for the Rays in the game, and the Rays won the game the following inning by a 7-5 score.
Highly-touted young right-hander Chris Archer and Jordan Lyles took the ball for the Rays and Astros and effectively dueled to a draw. The Rays drew first blood off of Lyles in the 1st after Desmond Jennings doubled and came around to score on Evan Longoria‘s groundball, but the lead was not to last as Brett Wallace drilled an opposite-field homer off Archer in the 4th and Jake Elmore delivered a sac fly in the 5th to give Houston a 2-1 lead. But the Rays tied it up in the 7th after Jennings doubled Jose Lobaton to 3rd, where he scored on a wild pitch. Archer went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on just 2 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3 and Lyles went 6.2 innings giving up 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3 and getting 8 outs on the ground. The Rays have as much talent as any team in baseball while the Astros were never expected to finish above last place this season. But in baseball, so often it comes down to the pitching matchup, and with Archer and Lyles duking it out, the Rays and Astros were evenly matched and the game became a battle of the bullpens. It was the Rays who would strike first.
After Travis Blackley got out of the 7th for the Astros, Jose Cisnero came in for the 8th and the Rays hit him hard from the start. Evan Longoria walked to begin the inning before getting pinch-run for by Sam Fuld, and two batters later, Wil Myers moved Fuld to 3rd with a double. Kelly Johnson was intentionally walked to bring Jose Lobaton to the plate. Cisnero did his job against Lobaton, forcing weak contact on the ground, but it was too slow to turn two as Johnson went hard into second base, and Fuld scored to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. Then Yunel Escobar came to the plate and put a finishing touch on the rally, slamming a 2-run double to deep center to make it a 5-2 Rays lead. Lyles helped Houston keep in close for the first 7 innings, but the Rays pulled away as good teams should do in the 8th. Little did Rays fans know what was in store in the bottom of the inning. Joel Peralta walked Elmore to begin the inning before Jose Altuve singled, and then Brett Wallace cashed in a hanging splitter for his second home run of the game, a 3-run shot that tied the game at 5. For the second straight game, a debilitating 3-run had left the Rays in dismay. The only good news was that Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth got out of the inning and ugly as it was, the Rays still had a chance to come away with the win.
Farnsworth and Jose Veras tossed scoreless halves of the 9th inning, and the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, though, the Astros came to the brink of victory of Jamey Wright. With 1 out in the inning, Wallace singled and Jason Castro was hit by a 2-2 curveball to move the winning run into scoring position. Wright came back to strike out Chris Carter, but he had one more out to go with J.D. Martinez coming to the plate. Wright’s 1-0 cutter stayed up and Martinez drilled a line drive into the corner primed to hand the Astros a dramatic victory–but it just barely stayed foul. Wright struck out Martinez to send the game to the 11th. And after that lucky break kept them alive in the 10th, two more breaks helped them net the go-ahead runs in the 11th. Jose Lobaton walked off of Josh Fields before Castro’s passed ball moved him to 2nd, and Yunel Escobar followed with his second clutch double of the game, drilling a line down the right field line to make it 6-5 Rays. After moving to 3rd on a flyball, Escobar scored on Wesley Wright‘s wild pitch to make it 7-5 Rays. And then in the bottom of the inning, Fernando Rodney retired the next three batters in order following a walk to Ronny Cedeno, but what that doesn’t tell you was that Ben Zobrist made a bad throw to Escobar that Escobar was able to corral for a key force play at 2nd. The Rays won the game 7-5, using all the luck they could possibly muster to take 3 out of 4 from the lowly Astros.
This is not the way you want to win. The Rays blew leads and squandered opportunities, and it was only by the skin of their teeth that they won this game. They have to appreciate just how fortunate they were. But at the end of the day, a win is a win, and every win will count at the end of the year. Hopefully the terrifying experience of this game shocks the Rays back into shape as they begin a 3-game set with the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, with Jeremy Hellickson opposing Dylan Axelrod in the opener.