The Tampa Bay Rays held off the Houston Astros, 2-1, in a nail-biter to take Game 1 of the 2020 American League Championship Series on Sunday night in San Diego. The best-of-seven series at Petco Park will continue with Game 2 on Monday afternoon.
Here are some of the main takeaways from Game 1.
Arozarena does it again
Rays slugger Randy Arozarena was a relative unknown entering the ALDS against the Yankees. In that series, he homered three times while hitting .421. There hasn't been much cooling off, so seeing him go deep in Game 1 shouldn't have been a shock.
That shot tied the game, 1-1, and likely caused a nice collective breath of relief from the Rays' dugout.
Arozarena didn't even play a game for the Rays until Aug. 30 this season. They were already stacked before he arrived. He hit .281/.382/.641 with seven homers in 64 at-bats to close down the regular season. He's taken things to the next level in the playoffs, though, as he's hitting .433/.485/.967 through eight games.
But let's make note of something moving forward. Arozarena has mostly been feasting on fastballs and he's starting to be worked with more breakers. He's 1 for his last 11 with six strikeouts. Yes, he hit the homer and that's the headline, but keep an eye on the rest of the body of work as the series moves on.
Snell guts through five
Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell did not have his best command and wasn't efficient. He gave up six hits and two walks in five innings while allowing hard contact several times. He only had two strikeouts, as he wasn't routinely missing bats. And yet, Snell escaped several jams. There was some good fortune, for sure, such as this double play:
You also have to credit Snell for making some big pitches and overall serving as the baseball version of a "bend-but-don't-break" defense. He was also able to leave six men on base in his five innings of work.
This was pretty much what the Rays needed from Snell, who doesn't ordinarily work deep into games. Their big three bullpen arms just emptied their tanks on Friday night and with no days off this series, they really needed Snell to get through five good innings. He did so and only allowed the one run (a solo Jose Altuve homer in the first). That's a passing grade for sure.
Rays lean on 'other' bullpen arms
As alluded to above, the Rays surely wanted to avoid using Nick Anderson and Peter Fairbanks in Game 1 if they could. At the very least, surely the plan was to limit their use as much as possible, under the circumstances both carrying over from Friday night and moving forward with the series.
The first man to follow Snell was John Curtiss. He got into trouble by allowing a leadoff single and then a two-out walk, but escaped by getting a weak grounder to himself. Ryan Thompson followed with a strikeout and two groundouts. Getting through those two innings were big.
Then things got dicey. Lefty Aaron Loup, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 30, came in for the eighth and hit Michael Brantley with his first pitch. He got Alex Bregman swinging but then uncorked a wild pitch to advance the tying run to second for Carlos Correa. Correa walked. Kyle Tucker singled and the bases were loaded with one out.
Rays manager Kevin Cash had to turn to Castillo and he got a one-pitch double play to end the threat. That was a "wow" moment. Castillo stayed in to finish the ninth, but it was a huge win for the Rays to get Game 1 without having to lean on Anderson or Fairbanks at all.
Altuve hits Snell hard, but ...
Before Game 1, the Astros had a pretty dominant history against Snell. Among players on the Astros active roster for the ALCS, they had hit .325/.402/.623 with six homers in 77 career at-bats against Snell. Altuve in particular had owned Snell to the tune of 4 for 13 with three homers. After their first-inning matchup resulted in yet another tater, run that to 5 for 14 with four homers.
Still, the Astros just stopped scoring after that. The gaudy Altuve numbers as a big storyline fell by the wayside in favor of the Astros' power vanishing and their left-on-base numbers continuing to rise throughout the game. They left 10 men on base and were 2 for 8 with zero RBI with runners in scoring position.
It should be noted that the Astros weren't alone here. The Rays left nine men on base and were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. A Mike Zunino RBI single was the difference in the game.
Valdez mostly dominant for Astros
The Astros couldn't have asked for a ton more from their starting pitcher, Framber Valdez. Perhaps fewer walks, but Valdez allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings. He gave up the homer to Arozarena, but, well, basically everyone is doing that these days. The other run allowed came on a well-placed Zunino single with two outs. The baserunner did get on via the walk, so that was the only real complaint with Valdez. He didn't get hit hard at all, but there were four walks and one came back to bite him in the form of the go-ahead RBI for the Rays.
There's no rest here throughout the series. Game 2 always happens the day after Game 1, but we're heading to day two of seven games in seven days, if necessary, for this ALCS. It'll be Lance McCullers for the Astros and Charlie Morton for the Rays.
Historically, the team that wins Game 1 in seven-game series in Major League Baseball has gone 114-65 in series.