Randy Arozarena homered again at Petco Park and Mike Zunino drove in the go-ahead run for the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Houston Astros 2-1 Sunday night in the opener of the AL Championship Series.
Blake Snell allowed Jose Altuve’s homer as he laboured through the first inning on 29 pitches before the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner settled down to pitch five innings for the win.
Diego Castillo got five outs for the save. He came on with the bases-loaded with one out in the eighth and got out of it with one pitch when Yuli Gurriel grounded into a double play. Aaron Loup had loaded the bases on a hit batter, walk and single.
Castillo threw 29 pitches in two innings Friday night in the 2-1 win against the New York Yankees that clinched the AL Division Series.
“I was going to be ready,” he said through a translator. “I knew with the day off yesterday, I came to the stadium prepared. I just came ready to pitch.”
Tampa has leaned on its bullpen all season.
“I think the job he did sums up his whole year,” said Zunino, the catcher. “He stepped up big for us. He’s been throwing a lot in big situations for us. We had an idea who we might be able to go to, but him coming in there showing what he’s made out of says a lot about what those guys in the bullpen have done for us all year.”
Game 2 is Monday afternoon when the Rays turn to 36-year-old Charlie Morton, who got the win for Houston in Game 7 when it won the 2017 World Series. Houston counters with Lance McCullers Jr., who started that Game 7 for the Astros.
Houston, which got into the playoffs with a losing record, is in the ALCS for the fourth straight season and is trying to advance to the World Series for the third time in that span.
The Astros are villains in many people’s eyes for their sign-stealing scandal three years ago, when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. They also remain unapologetic.
Tampa Bay is trying to reach its second World Series after losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons over there where they can mix and match, and we tried to keep the right-handed side of their lineup in there tonight, which we did,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Everything went according to plan tonight, other than winning the game.”
Zunino singled past diving shortstop Carlos Correa to bring in Willy Adames with the go-ahead run with two outs in the fifth off lefty Framber Valdez. Adames reached on a leadoff walk and advanced on consecutive ground outs to Valdez.
Arozarena continued his breakout post-season with his fourth homer in six games, sending a 1-2 pitch from Valdez to centre field with one out in the fourth to tie it at 1. He homered in each of the first three games of the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, also in San Diego.
Nicknamed “The Cuban Rocket,” Arozarena defected to Mexico in 2015 and signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He made his big league debut last year and was traded to the Rays in the off-season.
He tested positive for COVID-19 during intake testing prior to summer camp and didn’t make his 2020 season debut until Aug. 30.
The only Rays with more homers in a post-season are Melvin Upton Jr. with seven and Evan Longoria six, both in 2008.
Altuve homered in his third straight game, driving a 2-1 pitch from Snell to left with one out in the first.
Snell allowed one run and six hits, struck out two and walked two.