Rays stymie Astros 4-1 to even ALDS at two games apiece

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Starting Justin Verlander on three days’ rest didn’t work out well for the Astros in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays on Tuesday night. The veteran right-hander forked over three runs in the first inning and did not last through the fourth as the Rays went on to win 4-1, forcing a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.

The Rays went with a bullpen day — something they’re no strangers to doing — and it worked brilliantly. Diego Castillo “started,” striking out three in a row after allowing a leadoff single. In the bottom half of the first, Tommy Pham opened the scoring with a solo homer to left field. The Rays continued to threaten, as Ji-Man Choi drew a walk off of Verlander. Avisaíl García grounded a single to left field and, with two outs, Travis d'Arnaud hit a ground ball single of his own to left to plate Choi. Joey Wendle followed up with a line drive single to right field to send García home to make it 3-0.

Castillo got two more outs in the second inning before giving way to lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who scattered a pair of hits across two scoreless innings. The third inning was scoreless, in part, due to a picture-perfect relay from center fielder Kevin Kiermaier to shortstop Willy Adames to d’Arnaud at home to get José Altuve on a Yordan Álvarez double. In the bottom half of the fourth, Adames provided more insurance by slugging a leadoff solo homer to left-center field. Verlander later allowed a two-out walk which ended his night. All told, he surrendered four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

The Rays’ bullpen continued to dominate. Yarbrough gave way to Nick Anderson, who spun 2 1/3 scoreless innings on one hit with two strikeouts. Colin Poche worked a scoreless seventh. He remained in the game in the eighth, serving up a two-out solo homer to Robinson Chirinos, which finally put the Astros on the board at 4-1. Manager Kevin Cash called on closer Emilio Pagán for the final four outs of the game. Pagán got George Springer to fly out to end the eighth. The Astros did not go down without a fight, however. In the ninth, Altuve drew a one-out walk and Alex Bregman singled to left-center to put runners on the corners. Cash decided to bring in reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to face Álvarez. It was the right call, as Snell got him to swing at a slider in the dirt for strike three and the second out. Snell recorded the final out when Gurriel hit a sharp grounder up the middle but Wendle was positioned perfectly.

The Astros will host the Rays for all the marbles in Game 5 on Thursday night. Gerrit Cole versus Tyler Glasnow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 PM ET.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.