The Tampa Bay Rays got theirs in the bottom of the second inning during their 10-3 triumph over the Astros in Game 3 of that American League Division Series. With the score 1-0 Houston thanks to a first-inning José Altuve homer, Kevin Kiermaier stepped into the box with two on and two out. The centerfielder had managed but a lone single through three post-season contests coming into Monday afternoon, so his prospects against Zack Greinke weren’t great.
But the guy known far more for catches than smashes parked a 2-1 pitch over the right field porch and you could almost feel the Rays loosen their collective tie and start breathing a little easier. Wouldn’t you know it, home runs followed in the next two innings, courtesy of Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe. From there, the Rays were swimming downstream the rest of the way.
The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, just could not find that knock against the Yankees. Even one when they had the bases loaded and nobody out against Luis Severino — the man who pitched just 12 innings in an injury-plagued regular season — in the bottom of the second may have sent them down a different path rather than the familiar one they experienced, an ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees after the Bronx Bombers won Game 3 5-1.
So the Twins go home, while Tampa still has some hope.
Kiermaier came up huge hitting from the No. 8 spot and the guy who followed him also swung a mean stick. Shortstop Willy Adames swatted a timely home run of his own because it came in the bottom of the sixth right after the always-dangerous Astros had cut a seven-run deficit down to five.
Adames’ answer helped everyone at ‘The Trop’ relax again. He finished the afternoon going three-for-three with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Production like that from your 8-9 guys is a great way to launch yourself back in a series.
Full marks to both Tampa starter Charlie Morton and catcher Travis d’Arnaud for their gutsy efforts in Game 3. Morton — the winning pitcher for Houston in Game 7s of the 2017 American League Championship Series and World Series — once again showed up in a critical contest. Not that it came easy. Morton threw 31 pitches in the first inning, including the one Altuve put in the stands. He then watched Greinke mow down the Rays on just nine pitches in the bottom half. He hung tight, though, and gave up just two more hits the rest of the way and left with an 8-1 lead after five innings.
There was nothing glamorous about d’Arnaud’s day, but he still found a way to contribute. The former Toronto Blue Jays prospect was aboard for Kiermaier’s dinger because he’d been hit by a pitch. In the top of the seventh, d’Arnaud was bonked on the head by the follow through of Michael Brantley’s swing. He stayed in the game, though, and delivered a sacrifice fly in the bottom half of that inning to deliver the final Tampa run of the game.
The Yankees’ offence tends to get the headlines, and rightfully so. The Twins tied Game 1 3-3 in the top of the fifth inning. From that point on, New York outscored its opponent 20-4 throughout the rest of the series.
Not to be overlooked, though, is how good the Yankees were on the other side of the ball in Game 3. Second baseman Gleyber Torres saved a run with an outstanding stab in the fifth as he bolted to his right, snared the ball on the outfield grass and whipped the throw to D.J. LeMahieu at first base just in time to get Eddie Rosario. The next inning, Miguel Sano cranked a laser to right field that six-foot-seven Aaron Judge needed all of his reach to pull in as he raced toward the wall.
The last time the Twins had any hope was in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second and one out. That’s when Didi Gregorious — who was a Twin killer at the dish all series — absolutely robbed Jorge Polanco with a full-extension diving catch at short.
Add it up and the Yanks deserve to be the first team to book a spot in a 2019 league championship series.
Minnesota’s playoff futility streak is positively mind-bending.
The Twins have now lost 16 consecutive post-season outings, their last win coming in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS. That ties the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks of the late 1970s for the longest playoff futility streak among clubs in the four major North American sports. Minnesota has also somehow managed to lose 13 straight playoff games to the Yankees.
The ouster of the 101-win Twins marks the third consecutive autumn a 100-win team was bounced in the division series, following the Yankees (100 wins) in 2018 and the Cleveland Indians (102) in 2017.