McCoy: Opportunistic Rays take 2-0 ALCS lead over Astros

As if the Houston Astros didn’t already know, the Tampa Bay Rays don’t hit you over the head with a sledgehammer. They nick you to death with a hundred paper cuts.

The Rays took advantage of a rare error by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and made five above-and-beyond defensive plays en route to a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Monday in San Diego’s Petco Park.

Altuve’s throwing error in the first inning led to a three-run home run by Manny Margot. From there the Rays used polished glovework and their always impeccable bullpen to take a 2-0 series lead.

Shortstop Willy Adames made three incredible plays, third baseman Joey Wendle made a highlight play and right fielder Margot made a breath-taking dive into the stands to snag a foul.

In the process, due in part by the defensive work, the Astros stranded 11 runners and were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position — and that hit did not score a run.

The Astros outhit the Rays, 10-4, and Tampa Bay had only one hit after the third inning, an eighth-inning home run by catcher Mike Zunino.

The Astros rocketed balls all over the inside property of Petco, but those balls kept finding the gloves of Tampa Bay defenders.

They put runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings against Rays starter Charlie Morton. Each time Morton kept finding the right pitches to squirm out of it.

The Astros stranded seven runners in the first four innings, not one finding home plate. They were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring territory against Morton in those five innings.

A two-out error Altuve aided the Rays in scoring three runs in the first inning.

With two outs and nobody on, Randy Arozarena singled to left. Ji-Man Choi bounced an easy ground ball to Altuve. He fielded it cleanly, but lobbed his throw to first base. It bounced and first baseman Yuri Gurriel couldn’t come up with it.

The error that should have ended the inning turned into three runs when Margot cleared the center field wall with a home run.

The Astros put two on with one out in the first, but shortstop Adames snagged a bullet blasted by Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker struck out.

Houston placed runners on third and second with one out in the second. George Springer lobbed one down the right field line in foul ground. This time it was Margot using his glove instead of his bat.

Running full speed he reached into the stands, caught the ball, then toppled over the rail. He quickly popped up, holding the ball in his glove over his head like an Olympic gold medalist.

Margot previously played in Petco as a member of the San Diego Padres, but said he never played right field and wasn’t familiar with the territory.

“I never played right field here and I knew it was going to be a dangerous play, but I had to make the play, had to make the catch,” said Margot, who received nothing more than a scratch on his leg.

Margot his only one home run while the Rays were going 40=20 in the regular season, but now has three more in the postseason.

“The adrenaline, the excitement of just being in the playoffs,” he said. “Being able to help my teammates helps me out the most.”

After five frustrating innings against Morton (no runs, five hits, a walk, a hit by pitch), the Astros broke through in the sixth by hitting one where a defender couldn’t put a glove on it.

Carlos Correa reached relief pitcher Peter Fairchild for a one-out home run in the sixth, cutting Tampa Bay’s margin to 3-1.

After the three unearned runs in the first, Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. waded easily through the Rays lineup.

With shadows around home plate, making it difficult for batters to see, McCullers retired 14 straight with nine strikeouts with two outs in the seventh.

Tampa Bay catcher and No. 9 hitter Zunino ended that. With one swing he made it 4-1, a 454-foot blast that was headed for Mexico without a passport.

McCullers left after seven innings, having acquitted himself extremely well — three runs (one earned), four hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts.

Houston’s frustration level reached Mach 2 in the ninth inning against Tampa Bay’s best relief pitcher, Nick Anderson.

They loaded the bases with no outs. They scored a run while George Springer hit into a double play. Amazingly, Anderson walked the next two on eight straight pitches, refilling the bases.

That brought up Alex Bregman, a chance to tie it or put the Astros ahead. Even more amazingly, after seeing Anderson throw eight straight balls, he swung at the first pitch and flied out to right to end it.

So against all odds in this one, Tampa Bay sits in a lofty position heading into Game 3 Tuesday.

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