A bullpen game seems likely, and the Rays may counter with a similar strategy after using only Jose Alvarado and Aaron Slegers out of the bullpen Wednesday. Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Peter Fairbanks and the rest of their deep, vaunted relief corps should be rested.
Tampa Bay remains one win from going to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, while Houston is trying to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
“We are very motivated,” said Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who has three homers to go along with three throwing errors in the series. “We know the team we have and yes, we want to be the second team coming back from 0-3.”
Randy Arozarena is having an undeniably incredible postseason, he can’t always carry the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense all by himself.
In fact, it’s a bit wild that the Rays have reached the brink of the World Series with an unheralded rookie doing so much of their offensive work.
Arozarena hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning for his fifth homer of the postseason, but the Rays didn’t score again until Willy Adames’ two-out double in the ninth. Adames was stranded on third when Yoshi Tsutsugo’s liner was caught in right field to end Tampa Bay’s 4-3 loss.
“The team feels good,” Arozarena said through a translator. “We’re going to stay positive. We came in here knowing we were going to face a solid team.”
The foundation of Tampa Bay’s success this fall is not offense: After batting .238 in the regular season to rank 21st in the majors, the Rays are hitting a meager .209 in the postseason with a .692 OPS — both the worst among the four remaining teams — despite its 8-3 record.
“We’ve got to get the bats going, no doubt about it,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve been carried here by our pitching and defense, which is how we’re built, but we sure would like to get some (hits). It’s not coming easy for anybody now. We’ve got guys in our lineup that are scuffling a little bit.”
Indeed, the Rays got to the brink of their franchise’s second World Series appearance relying on that stellar pitching staff, superb team defense and the hot bat of Arozarena, who’s batting .438 in the playoffs with a jaw-dropping 19 hits — one more than he managed in the entire regular season.
While nobody has matched Arozarena’s production for Tampa Bay in October, several teammates have stepped up in different games to provide key hits and runs. It never happened in Game 4, and the Rays’ four-game playoff winning streak ended with seven hits — just two for extra bases — in their first potential closeout game of the ALCS.
“Obviously we hope that everybody could be hitting good,” said Adames, who was 2 for 29 in the playoffs before his ninth-inning double. “I hope everybody is killing it, but that’s not the way it goes. There’s going to be guys that struggle, and there’s going to be guys that are successful. That’s why we’re a team. One day some guys pick it up, and other guys do it on other days.”
Arozarena has done it almost every day. His fifth homer of the postseason put him in elite company: He has hit more homers in a single postseason than any rookie in major league history except Evan Longoria, who hit six for these same Rays in 2008. Kyle Schwarber also hit five for the Cubs as a rookie in 2015.
But Arozarena struck out in his other three at-bats in Game 4, including a whiff on a check swing with two runners on in the sixth. Tampa Bay put together its best rally in the sixth with three singles, but Greinke escaped the jam with a bases-loaded strikeout of Mike Brosseau, who hit the tiebreaking homer in Game 5 of the Rays’ decisive Division Series victory over the Yankees.
“I personally don’t think I went on that swing,” Arozarena said of the call by first base ump Tim Timmons. “We’re all human beings, and I think the umpire made a mistake on that call.”
Although the final destination hasn’t been determined, Arozarena’s postseason is already a remarkable journey. His 19 hits are the fourth-most by a rookie in a single postseason, and his nine extra-base hits are the most in Rays postseason history.