Tampa Bay Rays' Ji-Man Choi, right, celebrates his third inning home run against the Houston Astros with Brandon Lowe (8) during Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Rays Look to Force Game 5

Less than 24 hours ago, the situation looked bleak. Down 0-2 in the ALDS with a combined three runs in two games. The Rays had their ace out there, but the Astros had their third ace out there as well.

Fast forward to the bottom of the second. Down 1-0 early with Zack Greinke looking sharp. Stepping up to the plate is Kevin Kiermaier, who has batted 1-for-11 in the postseason. Two outs with runners on first and second; Greinke an out from ending the inning. But then, Kiermaier took Greinke’s 88 mph changeup thrown down the middle and drove high into deep right center field for a three-run home run.

Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier hits a 3-run home run against the Houston Astros in the second inning of Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Audette)

The Rays offense came alive and defeated the Astros 10-3 to force a game 4 and keep their playoff hopes alive. A crowd of 32, 251 at Tropicana Field was there to see it.

Now the Rays look to do it again so they can take the series back to Houston for a winner-take-all game 5.

Short-Rest Ace vs. Opener

An old-fashion postseason move is up against a 17-month-old strategy developed out of necessity.

The Houston Astros will start ace Justin Verlander on three-days rest; the first time he will pitch under these conditions in his hall-of-fame career. The Rays will open with Diego Castillo. While the Astros intend for Verlander to pitch as deep into the game as possible, the Rays may only use Castillo for three outs. Both plans have been effective for both teams. However, only one of them will help claim a win after nine innings.

Verlander has been masterful in his postseason career with a 14-7 record with a 3.05 ERA. He has 175 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings pitched. If you look at his time with Houston, his numbers look even scarier: 7 -2 record with a 2.51 ERA and 63 strikeouts.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning during Game 1 of a best-of-five American League Division Series baseball game in Houston, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Verlander said he is prepared for the high-leverage situation:

Castillo’s numbers add up to 3 2/3 scoreless innings. The numbers could not be any more polar opposite from each other.

The Rays’ Offense vs. Verlander

The Rays’ lineup has been mainly the same batters but in a slightly different order each time. It is more than likely the Rays will shuffle the lineup again after they, as Rays manager Kevin Cash put it, got “verlandered” in game 1.

Verlander gave up a single hit against the Rays in game 1. Combining the regular season and postseason, Verlander is 3-0 against the Rays and hasn’t surrendered a run since Austin Meadows homered off him in the first at-bat on opening day. For the Rays to force a game 5, they will need to turn the table on a season-long trend.

Kiermaier said he doesn’t care who is on the mound and the Rays are ready to keep fighting:

Game 4 will be a Rays home game at Tropicana Field. First pitch is now 7:07 p.m.

About Harrison Smajovits

Harrison is a sports coordinator at ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM WRUF. He served as a beat writer for Florida Gators football for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He also contributes to WRUF's Gainesville Sports Center segments and makes appearances on the Clash on Harp on Sports. Harrison has been a content writer for WRUF since January 2019 as well.

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