HOUSTON — Drew Rasmussen and three relievers combined for a three-hitter, Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi both homered and the Tampa Bay Rays coasted past the Houston Astros 7-0 Wednesday night, giving them the No. 1 seed in the American League playoffs.
The Astros lost for the fifth time in six games on a night they could have clinched their fourth AL West title in five seasons with a win. They could still wind up winning the division if Seattle loses later to Oakland.
Tampa Bay improved to 98-60, outdoing the 2008 team for most wins in franchise history. With the best record in the AL, the two-time AL East champions secured home-field advantage through the AL Championship Series.
It’s the third time the Rays will enter the playoffs as the top seed and they’re the first AL team to do it in consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees in 2011-12.
Rays rookie Wander Franco doubled and singled twice, and safely reached base for the 43rd straight game, tying him with Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest streak by a player 20 or younger.
Rasmussen (4-1) allowed one hit over five innings. Luis Patino allowed one hit in two innings and Ryan Sherriff gave up one hit in 1 2/3 innings, but was lifted after walking a batter and hitting another one with two outs in the ninth. Louis Head took over and got the final out.
Lowe’s 31st two-run homer put the Rays up 3-0 in the second. Choi’s three-run shot in the fifth pushed Tampa Bay’s lead to 6-0 before the Astros got a runner on base.
The Astros didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning Wednesday, a night after being held hitless until the sixth before rallying for a 4-3 victory.
Rookie Luis Garcia (11-8) permitted seven hits and six runs, but only three were earned after a costly error by rookie center fielder Jose Siri in the second.
There were two outs and no one on when Brett Phillips hit a fly that fell out of Siri’s glove. The ball then bounced off the wall and Siri bobbled it again, letting it fall to the ground while Phillips reached third.
Francisco Mejia’s RBI single to right field put the Rays up 1-0 and Lowe followed with his shot to right field.
Rays left fielder Manuel Margot robbed Jose Altuve of a hit when he sprinted to make a diving catch for the first out of the fourth inning.
Lowe doubled with one out in the fifth and Nelson Cruz drew a two-out walk. Choi sent Garcia’s next pitch to the bullpen in right centre to pad the lead.
The Astros finally got a hit when Yuli Gurriel singled with one out in the fifth. But Carlos Correa grounded into a force out before Rasmussen retired Kyle Tucker to end the inning.
Rays: INF Yandy Diaz was out of the lineup a day after leaving the game following the sixth inning with rib discomfort. But the Rays don’t believe the problem is serious and he expects to return Friday
Astros: OF Michael Brantley was activated from the injured list Wednesday after sitting out since Sept. 11 with a sore right knee. … C Martin Maldonado left the game before the sixth inning with left shoulder soreness. … RHP Zack Greinke (neck soreness) is scheduled to make a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Sugar Land Thursday night. … RHP Josh James was optioned to Sugar Land Wednesday to make room for Brantley on the roster.
Play was stopped for a few minutes with two outs in the ninth when two fans — one with a oversized foam cowboy hat — ran onto the field and zig-zagged around the outfield while being chased by nine security guards. Both men were finally wrestled to the ground and led off the field and play resumed.
Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. (12-5, 3.17 ERA) will start the series finale Thursday night. The Rays will go with an opener or Ryan Yarbrough (9-6, 5.09)