Apr 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Luis Garcia (77) delivers a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fourth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Whether they are ahead or trailing on the scoreboard, the Tampa Bay Rays are rolling and have the feeling that they will win on any given night.
Even against the reigning World Series champions.
The Astros opened their three-game series against Tampa Bay with an 8-3 defeat on Monday. Houston will look to get back on the winning track in the middle game of the three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla.
There were contributions all around as the Rays set a modern-era record (since 1901) with 14 straight home wins to start a season. The all-time mark of 21-0 to start a home campaign was set by the 1880 Chicago White Stockings, the precursor to the Cubs.
Tampa Bay went 6-for-17 (.353) with runners in scoring position. Five Rays had multiple hits while six drove in runs as the club outhit the Astros 14-6. Tampa Bay has outscored the opposition 157-64 through 23 contests — 20 of them wins.
Five of the first seven batters in Tampa Bay’s order are hitting .313 or higher, though the team’s major-league-record run of 22 straight games with a homer to start the season came to a close.
Wander Franco stole the show on Monday, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, two runs, an RBI, and a stolen base. The shortstop also made an amazing catch — barehanded while running in foul territory to snare a pop fly, a la Kevin Mitchell in 1989.
Franco, 22, boosted his average to .318 and moved into a tie for third in the majors with 15 extra-base hits.
“Wander is just a very talented player,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The catch, the amount of ground that he covered. … He was excited.”
The Astros played without Yordan Alvarez, who returned to Houston for an examination of his ailing neck. General manager Dana Brown told the media he expects Alvarez to play this weekend at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
A pair of right-handers will take the mound as the series continues on Tuesday.
In what will be his fifth start, Houston’s Luis Garcia (1-2, 5.14 ERA) will be looking to regain the form that helped him record a career-high 15 victories in 2022.
The 26-year-old Venezuelan’s most recent outing against the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays has manager Dusty Baker and the rest of the coaching staff encouraged.
In the Astros’ 8-1 win on Wednesday, Garcia fired seven shutout innings and yielded just two hits. He struck out nine and walked one over a season-high 92 pitches in Houston’s first series-clinching win at home thus far.
“Garcia was excellent,” Baker said. “He minimized his pitches. Him and (catcher Martín Maldonado) work good together. It was much needed for us.”
Against the Rays in his career, Garcia is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts.
Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 2.01) gets the ball for Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
In all three of his victories, the 27-year-old Puyallup, Wash., native has held the opposition scoreless — six innings against the Washington Nationals, seven against the Oakland A’s, and five his last time out in Cincinnati against the Reds on Wednesday.
Rasmussen holds a 2-1 record with a 3.00 ERA in three lifetime starts versus the Astros. Alex Bregman is 3-for-8 with a homer against Rasmussen.
–Field Level Media contributed to this story