JOEY Wendle and Hunter Renfroe each drove in two runs in the sixth inning as the Tampa Bay Rays moved within one win of their second World Series appearance with a 5-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday in San Diego.
Randy Arozarena had a double and two singles to become the first rookie with four three-hit performances in a single postseason.
Renfroe and Kevin Kiermaier each made a pair of sterling, defensive plays for the top-seeded Rays, who seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series (ALCS). They can punch their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 2008 with a win over sixth-seeded Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Jose Altuve belted a solo homer in the first inning before his third error in two games opened the door to Tampa Bay’s five-run sixth.
Altuve’s throwing error on a potential double-play ball put two runners aboard and led to the departure of starter Jose Urquidy (0-1). Yandy Diaz greeted Enoli Paredes with a single to load the bases before Wendle ripped a two-run single to left field to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.
A pair of hit batsmen produced another run before Renfroe’s pinch-hit blooper to shallow right field off Brooks Raley plated two more runs and boosted Tampa Bay’s lead to 5-1.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Altuve’s spate of errors, “We’re giving him all the support that we can. Nobody feels worse than Jose, because he takes it very seriously and takes it to heart. …
“You can go on a defensive slump the same way you go through an offensive slump, then the physical becomes mental.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash added about Altuve’s defensive struggles, “It is surprising to see that, but you do what you can to make the most of the opportunities your opponent presents you.”
Michael Brantley led off the bottom of the sixth with a homer on the first pitch from Ryan Yarbrough (1-0), who exited after allowing two runs on three hits in five-plus innings.
Three relievers bridged the gap to Aaron Loup, who worked out of an inherited bases-load jam in the eighth inning. Diego Castillo walked two, but retired the side in the ninth for his second save of the series.
Altuve opened the scoring with his fourth homer of the postseason and second in the first inning over the past three days. It also boosted Altuve’s career postseason home run total to 17, tying George Springer for the most in franchise history.
Kiermaier made a leaping grab at the wall on Alex Bregman’s bid for a homer to end the first inning, and his diving catch on Carlos Correa’s sinking liner may have prevented a pair of runs in the third. Kiermaier, however, exited the game with a left hand contusion after he was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning.
The Rays later announced X-rays on the hand were negative, and Kiermaier said postgame that he would be OK.
Renfroe, who stayed in the game as Kiermaier came out, made a sliding catch in right field to end the seventh inning and another for the second out in the eighth, the latter with the bases loaded and one out.
Renfroe said of the eighth-inning grab, “I knew I had a good chance to catch it. I got a good jump on it and was able to see if far enough to get the glove underneath it. If I wasn’t going to there, I was gonna block it any way possible.”
Baker said of the Astros’ series outlook, “It’s a steep mountain to climb, but it’s not impossible. We just have to tighten our belts, put our big boy pants on and come out fighting tomorrow.” — Reuters