By HAL McCOY
Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to put a quick end to his team’s American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Needing one win to end it, Hinch decided to start Justin Verlander in Game Four Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
And that was even though Verlander was pitching on only three days or rest instead of the normal four.
Why not? Verlander was 8-and-0 for his career in Division Series games. And in Game One of this series he held Tampa Bay to one hit over seven innings, a 100-pitch night.
It was a decision that none of the Three Wise Men would make.
Verlander’s usual dart-dipping slider was as flat as a Kansas cornfield and the Rays feasted.
There would be no one-hitter on this night. The Rays racked Verlander for three runs and four hits in the first inning, the impetus for a 4-1 Tampa Bay victory.
That tied the best-of-five series at two games apiece, with the finale scheduled for Thursday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The second batter Verlander faced, Tommy Pham, drilled a home run over the left center wall. The third batter he faced, Ji-Man Choi walked.
The fourth batter he faced, Avisail Garcia, singled. The sixth batter he faced, Travis d’Arnaud (with two outs), singled to make it 2-0. The seventh batter he faced, Joey Wendle, doubled to make it 3-0.
Verlander continued to struggle, but gave up only one more run, another home run. This one was hit by Willy Adames leading off the fourth inning.
Verlander pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, four hits, three walks and struck out five.
On this date in 1956, New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. . .nine innings, 97 pitches..
That, though, isn’t how Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash operates.
Cash went to his Opener/bullpen method he used so successfully all season. And it worked just the way Cash mapped it out on his desk blotter.
Six pitchers held the potent Astros to one run and six hits, walking two and striking out eight.
Opener Diego Castillo gave up a game-opening single to George Springer, then struck out the side. Castillo pitched 1 2/3 innings and gave up no runs, one hit, one walk and struck out three.
He was followed by Ryan Yarbrough — two innings, no runs, two hits, no walks, no strikeouts.
Yarbrough was followed by Nick Anderson — 2 1/3 innings, no runs, one hit, no walks, two strikeouts.
Anderson was followed by Colin Poche — 1 2/3 innings, one run, one hit, no walks, two strikeouts.
Poche was followed by closer Emilio Pagan — two-thirds of an inning, no runs, one hit, one walk, no strikeouts
Pagan was followed by starting pitcher and 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell in the ninth with one out and two on — 2/3s, no runs, no hits, no walks, one strikeout
One of Houston’s few scoring opportunities surfaced in the fourth. Jose Altuve led the inning with a single. With one out, Yordan Alvarez doubled off the center field wall.
Altuve tried to score from first but was gunned down at the plate, center fielder Kevin Kiermeier to shortstop Adames to catcher d’Arnoud. That pretty much was the extent of the Houston offense.
The Astros averted a shutout with two outs in the eighth when Robinson Chirinos cleared the right center field wall for a home run.
Then they put a scare into Central Florida in the ninth. Closer Emilio Pagan walked Jose Altuve on a full count and Alex Bregman singled, putting runners on third and first.
Cash opted to bring in one of his premier starters, Blake Snell, to finish the night. He struck out Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel grounded out up the middle.
While Houston’s offense was dormant, the Rays splattered 13 hits, four by Avasail Garcia and three by Tommy Pham. Ji-Man Choi was on base four times with three walks and a single.