The Tampa Bay Rays knew people might question their methods when they decided to go for a bullpen day in the fourth game of the ALDS, but by the fourth inning Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander was out of the game and the Rays were already winning.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the Tampa Bay Rays for the last two seasons, you might be forgiven for not believing in them when they decided to go with a bullpen day for game four of the ALDS against the Houston Astros. While it was initially pitched as an opener game, with Diego Castillo taking the mound to start, there was no bulk innings player in line after him, making this a much more traditional bullpen outing.
You might also be forgiven if you expected the Astros to use fewer pitchers in this game, anticipating Justin Verlander — on only three days rest — would outlast many of the Rays relievers. However by the end of the game the Rays and Astros had both used six pitchers apiece.
The Rays made it very clear in the first inning this was their game to lose. Facing off against the Astros ace, who had stymied them in game one of the series, the team started things off with a bang. A 408 foot home run from Tommy Pham got things going, then Travis d’Arnaud singled to score Ji-Man Choi (on base with his first of three walks for the night). Then Joey Wendle doubled to score Avisail Garcia, and suddenly the Rays were up 3-0 in the first inning.
Justin Verlander was pulled after 3 2/3 innings, forcing the Astros to go to their bullpen much sooner than they had hoped.
In the top of the fourth they also showed that they weren’t only about the offense, with one of the most unbelievably perfect defensive plays I have ever witnessed.
Following that play, Willy Adames lead off the bottom of the fourth inning with a 421′ solo home run giving the Rays another bonus run. In spite of the success they had tonight, they did leave a whopping 13 men on base throughout the evening, demonstrating that the Astros were still keeping them on their toes.
Robinson Chirinos scored the only Astros run of the game, a solo shot in the eighth inning, though things did get tense for the Rays in the ninth, as Emilio Pagan struggled with his command, allowing two base runners on with the potential tying run coming to the plate in Yordan Alvarez. Kevin Cash opted to switch to lefty Blake Snell, who was able to get Alvarez out, and then stayed on to end the game by getting out Yuli Gurriel and propelling the Rays to a forced game five.
The Rays used many of the expected relievers tonight with appearances from Diego Castillo, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Colin Poche, and the aforementioned Pagan and Snell. Snell threw only eight pitches so he and the rest of the bullpen will likely be available in game five, with Tyler Glasnow officially getting the nod to start.
From a positional point of view, Pham (three hits and an RBI); Choi (three walks, one hit), and Adames (hit, walk, RBI) were all dazzling tonight, especially with the defensive work done by Adames on the throw to tag out Jose Altuve at home, and Choi making two unreal line drive catches at first.
In was an incredible display put on by a team that clearly wanted to keep winning, and it made the nearly four-hour game time never feel boring.
The Tampa Bay Rays will take on the Houston Astros in Houston on Thursday, October 10 at 6PM ET.