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Mike Zunino plated the go-ahead run with a first-pitch single in the fifth inning and the Tampa Bay Rays' bullpen produced another exceptional effort in a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park in San Diego.
The Rays grabbed a 1-0 series lead on the back of two timely hits and a pair of critical double plays, the latter coming with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the eighth inning.
"The last two, we've won 2-1 and there's no margin for error," said Rays manager Kevin Cash about playing close games, alluding to the Rays' Game 5, AL Division Series-clinching win over the New York Yankees on Friday. "I think our guys take that approach every time they take the field."
Zunino drove home Willy Adames with his run-scoring single off Astros starter Framber Valdez (0-1), who surrendered his one-run lead an inning earlier when Randy Arozarena belted his fourth home run of this postseason. Arozarena drilled a 1-2 sinker 413 feet out to center field.
In the eighth, the Astros fashioned a threat against Rays left-hander Aaron Loup, with Kyle Tucker following free passes to Michael Brantley (hit by pitch) and Carlos Correa (walk) with a sharp single to left. Brantley advanced and held at third base, and Cash followed by summoning right-hander Diego Castillo to face Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel.
Gurriel, 2-for-24 this postseason, chopped the first pitch from Castillo to second baseman Brandon Lowe, who fielded the grounder, stepped on second to erase Tucker and fired to first to retire Gurriel. Houston stranded 10 runners and finished 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"It's disappointing," Astros manager Dusty Baker said about failing to convert scoring chances: "Opportunity is the name of the game and if we keep getting opportunities sooner or later we're going to come through."
Leading 1-0 in the fourth, the Astros squandered an opportunity to build a cushion against Rays starter Blake Snell, who had 71 pitches on his ledger with no outs and two runners on before facing Tucker in that frame. On the first pitch of that at-bat, Tucker hit a line drive to Adames, who was shifted up the middle before making the catch and beating a retreating Alex Bregman to second. Snell loaded the bases later that inning but induced a fly out from Martin Maldonado.
Snell (1-0) labored through a 29-pitch first inning yet limited the damage to a Jose Altuve solo home run. He needed 105 pitches to complete five frames and recorded just two strikeouts after averaging 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season. The Rays' four-man bullpen held the line, allowing five baserunners while combining for four shutout innings of work.
"I could tell with Cash, he just wanted to let me go," said Snell. "After the first inning, he saw me start to settle in a little bit and I just felt really good after that first inning. That was a lot of pitches but the Astros, they can hit. They've got a lot of good guys over there."
Valdez posted eight strikeouts while allowing two runs on four hits and four walks in six innings.
--Field Level Media