Rays down Astros to take driver’s seat in ALCS

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 the 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.

Game 2 is Monday afternoon when the Rays turn to 36-year-old Charlie Morton, who was with Houston when it won the 2017 World Series. Houston counters with Lance McCullers Jr.

The Astros, who got into the playoffs with a losing record, are in the ALCS for the fourth straight season and are trying to advance to the World Series for the third time in that span.

Yandy Diaz, left, of the Tampa Bay Rays beats out the throw to first baseman Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros during the eighth inning. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

They 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.

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.

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino catches a ground ball hit by Houston Astros designated hitter Aledmys Diaz during the sixth inning. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press )

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.

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