Astros sweep struggling Rays behind Tucker, McCullers

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Kyle Tucker hit a two-run homer, Lance McCullers Jr. pitched seven effective innngs and the AL West champion Houston Astros completed a three-game sweep by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was hit on the left elbow by Corey Kluber‘s pitch in the fifth and left one inning later with elbow discomfort. He was replaced by Mauricio Dubon.

Astros manager Dusty Baker said Altuve will probably miss the opener of a four-game series Thursday night at Baltimore to try and get ready for Friday.

“He’s going to be sore,” Baker said. “It got him below the pad, right on the elbow. Anybody who’s ever hit in their elbow knows how much that can hurt.”

Both Tucker and McCullers went to high school in nearby Tampa, Florida.

“I like to play guys in front of their home folks … they tend to do better,” Baker said. “It means something to play in front of the family.”

The announced attendance for the series was 28,675, including 9,293 on Wednesday. The Rays have the major’s third lowest attendance this season overall despite entering the day in position to be the AL’s second wild card.

The Astros, 10-1 over their last 11 games, blanked Tampa Bay in the first two games of the series, winning 4-0 Monday and 5-0 on Tuesday.

“Great sweep here,” McCullers said. “A great couple days of baseball.”

It the was Astros’ first sweep at Tropicana Field.

After Martin Maldonado hit a solo homer in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly worked the bottom half to get his 30th save in 34 chances. Maldonado’s mother was at the game.

Kluber allowed one run and six hits over seven innings for the Rays, who are battling with Toronto and Seattle for the top AL wild card spot.

Kluber had given up 10 runs and 19 hits over 6 2/3 innings in his previous two starts.

After Aledmys Diaz got his second RBI of the game on a single that barely got through a draw-in infield, Tucker drilled his 29th homer into the right-center field stands off Brooks Raley (1-2). He has 102 RBIs this year.

McCullers (4-1) gave up two runs, six hits, two walks and had eight strikeouts. The righty is 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts since returning from a right forearm injury.

Isaac Paredes gave the Rays their first lead in the series, at 2-1, when he opened the seventh with his 20th homer.

Tampa Bay stopped its 25-inning scoreless stretch on David Peralta‘s fielder’s choice grounder in the sixth. His hard-hit ball, a potential inning-ending double-play grounder with runners on the corners, handcuffed Dubon, who got the out at first.

Astros pitchers had a 26-inning scoreless streak snapped.

Diaz put the Astros ahead 1-0 with an RBI single in the first.

TV STAR

Injured Tampa Bay CF Kevin Kiermaier was the third man in the Rays TV booth. Kiermaier is out for the season following left hip surgery.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: 3B Alex Bregman had the day off.

Rays: Ace Shane McClanahan, lifted from Tuesday night’s game in the fifth inning due to neck tightness, said he is ready for his next start Sunday. … RHP Tyler Glasnow (Tommy John surgery) is scheduled to make his third and possibly final start with Triple-A Durham on Friday night. RHP Dustan Knight, recalled from Durham Wednesday, said Glasnow has looked like a guy “who is ready to go out and pitch the seventh game of the World Series.” … Reliever Jalen Beeks (lower right leg tightness) went on the 15-day IL.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (17-3, 1.78 ERA) looks to win his 10th consecutive decision Thursday night at Baltimore. Rookie RHP Kyle Bradish (3-7, 5.05 ERA) will start for the Orioles.

Rays: LHP Ryan Yarbrough (2-8, 4.33 ERA) will follow an opener JT Chargois (2-0, 4.41 ERA) Thursday night against Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (11-5. 4.99 ER)

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.