ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays never doubted themselves, even with Justin Verlander looking to end their season.
Willy Adames homered and made a sensational relay throw from shortstop, and the Rays chased Verlander early in beating the Houston Astros, 4-1, on Tuesday night to even their AL Division Series at two games apiece.
Tommy Pham also went deep and Ryan Yarbrough combined with five other pitchers on a six-hitter for Tampa Bay. Blake Snell, last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, came out of the bullpen for his first career relief appearance, holding off Houston in the ninth inning to earn the save.
Verlander, starting on short rest after dominating the wild-card Rays in Game 1, looked uncomfortable and was pulled in the fourth after giving up four runs.
The series shifts back to Houston for a deciding Game 5 on Thursday night. Astros star Gerrit Cole is scheduled to pitch for the heavily favored AL West champs, who led the majors with 107 wins.
“We’ve got some momentum going for us and we plan on taking it back to Houston,” Tampa Bay centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said.
The winner plays the Yankees in the ALCS.
Verlander, whose eight career ALDS victories are a major-league record, yielded three runs in the first. Adames homered leading off the fourth to make it 4-0.
“A good approach for those guys in the first, and then honestly, I need those infield singles to be caught. When you don’t have it, you need the balls that are put in play to go your way, and they didn’t,” said Verlander, who started on short rest three other times during his career, including the 2011 ALDS, when he started Games 1 and 3 after Game 1 was suspended in the second inning. “Obviously, not the way you would script it.”
The Rays helped themselves by playing stellar defense, especially with the Astros threatening to cut into their three-run deficit in the fourth.
With speedy Jose Altuve on first base, Yordan Alvarez hit a long double that short-hopped the centerfield wall. Two-time Gold Glove winner Kiermaier fired to the cutoff man Adames, who turned and executed a perfect relay home just in time to nail Altuve trying to score.
“That was probably the most incredible relay throw from an infielder I’ve ever seen,” Kiermaier said. “That was such a huge moment for us, huge momentum shift.”
Rays opener Diego Castillo struck out the first three batters and went 1 2⁄3 innings. He was followed by Yarbrough, who worked two scoreless innings to get the win. Nick Anderson handed off to Colin Poche, who gave up an eighth-inning homer to Robinson Chirinos.
Emilio Pagan and Snell finished up for the Rays, who have rebounded from losing the first two games of the series on the road to Verlander and Houston’s other main headliner, Cole.
“A lot of credit to them for their preparation and putting themselves in this position,” Cole said. “I certainly think they’ve earned it . . . They’ve played calm, cool and collected.”