Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13433374a) Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game, in Houston Rays Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 30 Sep 2022
With Houston’s magic number to lock up the number one seed in the AL postseason stalled at one since Wednesday, the Astros hoped to put things to bed on Friday.
They would earn the best regular-season record in the AL by the night’s end, but it had nothing to do with what was happening at Minute Maid Park. Another rough start by Framber Valdez paved the way for the Rays to get a lopsided 7-3 win over the Astros, but a Yankees loss to the Orioles reduced the magic number to zero.
After trading the lead back and forth, Rays get best of Valdez
After a disappointing outing in his last start where he saw his streak of consecutive quality starts snapped, Framber Valdez entered Friday’s series opener looking to turn a new page. Things did not go well for him in the top of the first, starting things off with back-to-back walks on ten pitches, which would later result in an RBI single to give Tampa Bay an early 1-0 lead.
In a shaken-up lineup from the usual, Alex Bregman moved up to second in the batting order behind Jose Altuve. He showed why he deserved the move up, tying the game in the bottom of the first with a solo home run. Things remained knotted up 1-1 until the bottom of the fourth. Yordan Alvarez led the inning off with a double, then scored on a two-out RBI single by Yuli Gurriel, a ball that probably should have been caught by Manuel Margot but bounced off his glove, giving the Astros a one-run lead.
Tampa Bay returned the favor in the top of the fifth by scoring two runs on three straight one-out hits and re-taking the lead 3-2 against Valdez. Houston’s starter continued to struggle in the top of the sixth, giving up another multi-run inning as the Rays extended their lead to 6-2 on three hits and a walk before Dusty Baker would move on to his relievers, calling on Ryne Stanek to clean things up.
Tampa Bay takes the opener and secures a playoff berth
Phil Maton was next out of the bullpen for Houston, looking to hold the lead to four runs in the top of the seventh, which he did with a 1-2-3 inning. Maton returned in the top of the eighth, allowing a two-out solo home run to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to five runs at 7-2.
Hector Neris tossed the top of the ninth, working around two walks for a scoreless inning. Tampa Bay held the lead in the bottom of the ninth, despite allowing a run, finishing off the win to lock up a Wild Card spot for the postseason.
News and notes
Five games to go: Game two of this three-game series will have a 6:20 PM start on Saturday. Cristian Javier (10-9, 2.65 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston, opposite Shane McClanahan (12-7, 2.51 ERA) for Tampa Bay.
McCullers Jr. set to return: After being scratched from his last start due to an illness, Lance McCullers Jr. is expected to make a start before the regular season concludes, says manager Dusty Baker.
Brantley eyeing return: Outfielder Michael Brantley, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this year and is a free agent after the season, said in an interview this week he intends to return in 2023 and hopes it is with the Astros.