Verlander started Game 4 on short rest because the Astros didn’t want to put too much on rookie Jose Urquidy (Urquidy threw 1 2/3 innings in relief Tuesday). The Rays used a bullpen game in Game 4 because they had no other options. Ryan Yarbrough pitched his way into the bullpen and Yonny Chirinos was hurt late in the regular season, and isn’t stretched out.
1. The Rays were all over Verlander
There will indeed be a Game 5 in the ALDS. Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros (TB 4, HOU 1) in Game 4 at Tropicana Field to force the winner-take-all Game 5. The Astros once led this best-of-five series 2-0. Now it’s even 2-2.
Here are six things to know about Tampa Bay’s Game 4 win with Game 5 looming Thursday. The exit velocities on Tampa’s four first inning hits: 107.8 mph, 111.3 mph, 100.3 mph, and 101.4 mph. In Game 1, Verlander held the Rays to an 83.1 mph average exit velocity, with only two batted balls over 89 mph and none above 98 mph. Quite a disparity. Verlander never did settle down. He put men on base in scoreless second and third innings, then gave up a solo homer to Willy Adames in the fourth inning. Verlander was unable to complete the fourth inning despite throwing close to 90 pitches. The Astros did bring likely AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez to the plate as the tying run in the ninth inning. Tampa countered with Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young winner. It was his first career MLB relief appearance. Snell struck Alvarez out, and got Yuli Gurriel to strand the runners and finish the game.
And I do mean perfect. Look at Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, shortstop Willy Adames, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud team up to nail Jose Altuve at the plate on Alvarez’s loud double to center field in the top of the fourth inning. Look at this:
2. Tampa’s 2-3-4 hitters were on base all night
After scoring nine runs on 19 hits in Games 1-2 combined, the Astros scored four runs on 13 hits in Games 3-4 combined. No doubt they will be happy to get home to Minute Maid Park for Game 5. The Astros have had enough of Tropicana Field. The Rays have been damn near unbeatable at home the last two months. Dating back to August 30, Tampa Bay is now 16-2 in their last 18 games at Tropicana Field, and they’ve outscored their opponents 95-50. They were 34-31 in their first 65 games at home during the regular season, if you can believe that. It is no better than the second worst ballpark in baseball, but give the Rays credit, they’ve turned Tropicana Field in a serious home field advantage.
Verlander’s fastball averaged 95.1 mph and topped out at 97.2 mph, which is his usual velocity, but the command was not there. Too many pitches were out over the plate and too many breaking balls lacked bite, and instead spun like cement mixers.
3. The Astros had no answer for the bullpen game
Tommy Pham hit a solo homer, and Travis d’Arnaud and Joey Wendle provided clutch two-out RBI hits.
The Rays did not make life easy for Verlander & Co. They put together quality at-bats one through nine and had traffic on the bases all night. The 2-3-4 hitters were especially productive. They reached base 11 times combined. Look at this group: Game 4 was the first true short rest start in Justin Verlander’s career. He did start Game 3 of the 2011 ALDS on two days rest, but that came after a rain-shortened one-inning outing in Game 1. Game 4 was his first time starting on short rest coming off a full start.
The best-of-five ALDS is now a best-of-one ALDS. The Rays have erased an 0-2 series deficit — they are trying to become only the fourth team to lose the first two games on the road in the 2-2-1 LDS format and come back to win the series — setting up a winner-take-all Game 5 at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night (7:07 p.m. ET). Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow are the expected starting pitchers. The winner moves on to face the Yankees in the ALCS (begins Saturday). The loser goes home.
4. The Rays made a perfect relay play
As a result, the Rays used five different pitches in Game 4, and no Astros hitter faced a pitcher more than once. Facing a different pitcher in each at-bat can’t be easy. Almost everyone Tampa Bay ran out there Tuesday night put up zeroes: Choi owns a funny-looking — yet productive! — .154/.421/.385 batting line in the ALDS. Those three saw 63 pitches combined in their 15 plate appearances, or 4.2 per. Pham, Choi, and Garcia doing that while d’Arnaud and Wendle provide two-out hits to score runs and Adames, the No. 9 hitter, goes deep makes for a tough night for the opposing pitching staff.
5. Tropicana Field continues to be a major home-field advantage
As for the Astros, George Springer is 2 for 17 (.118) in the ALDS, and Michael Brantley is 2 for 16 (.125). Springer’s first two hits of the series came Tuesday night. Tough to score when two top of the lineup guys do that in a short postseason series.
6. The Rays are still alive
Flawless. Absolutely flawless. Kiermaier played the ball off the wall perfectly, made a strong and accurate throw to the cutoff man, Adames made a smooth transfer and fired a strike to the plate, and d’Arnaud was able to receive the ball the apply the tag. Altuve never even touched the plate. That is execution at the highest level.