SAN DIEGO – Now the Rays should get worried.
A second straight loss to the Astros, 4-3 on Thursday, turned what two days ago was a commanding 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series into a precarious margin, and created a significant shift in momentum.
Worse, the Rays lost in crushing fashion after rallying to tie in the eighth and threatening in the ninth. Carlos Correa hit a walkoff homer off Nick Anderson with one out in the ninth.
"Tough loss, great ball game. We have to get the bats going," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
The Rays still have two chances to earn a trip to the World Series, but the pressure will be on them to end it in Game 6 Friday night, rather than go to a seventh and deciding game on Saturday with the more experienced Astros, who have seized upon the chance to make history.
Only one of the first 38 teams to fall behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series came back to win, and the Astros are looking to join the 2004 Red Sox, who beat the Yankees in the ALCS.
The Astros led 1-0 and 3-1 early, but the Rays tied it in the eighth as Ji-Man Choi joined Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena in hitting solo homers.
The game was a matchup of bullpens from the start, as the Rays went with right-handed journeyman John Curtiss and the Astros with rookie Luis Garcia, who last season was pitching at Class A. Curtiss worked 1 1/3 innings, Garcia two.
The Astros grabbed the lead immediately, as George Springer lashed Curtiss' first pitch on a 115.8-mph ride over the leftfield fence. Curtiss could have had more trouble, but he ended the inning by picking off Jose Altuve.
The Rays briefly got even in the third, as struggling Brandon Lowe, 3-for-41 for the postseason and 0-for-his-last 13 to that point, made Cash look smart, with a leadoff homer to center. After taking Lowe out of the lineup Wednesday, Cash put him in the leadoff spot Thursday and said pre-game, "He's going to come up big for us. We've got a lot of confidence in Brandon Lowe. He's going to come up today with some opportunity to do something, do some damage and find a hole, find some grass out there, or maybe find something over the wall."
The Tampa Bay Rays need just one more win over the Houston Astros to make it to the World Series.
The Astros came right back to re-take a 3-1 lead off Rays rookie lefty Josh Fleming. A leadoff single by Josh Reddick and a double by No. 9-hitting catcher Martin Maldonado set them up. Fleming got Springer on a comebacker, but Michael Brantley singled to right and third-base coach Omar Lopez made what turned out to be a good move as rambled home and slid in ahead of Austin Meadows' throw.
The Rays closed to 3-2 in the fifth when Randy Arozarena did what he's been doing for weeks, and hit another home run, this off Enoli Paredes.
That made six for the postseason, tying the major-league rookie record set in 2008 by former Ray Evan Longoria. Arozarena also set two Rays postseason records, his 20 hits surpassing B.J. Upton's 19 in 2008 and his 10 extra-base hits topping the nine by Upton and Longoria that year.
The Rays had a chance for more, as Austin Meadows walked and Ji-Man Choi singled with two outs off Andre Scrubb. But Manuel Margot could manage only a slow roller toward third, and Alex Bregman made an impressive bare-handed play.
The Rays tied it in the eighth with one swing, as Choi continued his hot day with a clutch hit, a 447-foot blast to right, the third longest homer of his career.
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