Houston's magic number is down to one

Astros get walk-off win over Rays to end four-game skid and put clinch in sight

The Astros and Rays battled a close one on Tuesday, but Houston came out ahead. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With losses in their last four games, the Astros returned home and welcomed in the AL-best Rays on Tuesday to try and turn the page on the poor end to their recent road trip. Despite going down late in the game, they would rally in the ninth to get the win in a potential ALCS preview.

Final Score: Astros 4, Rays 3

Astros' Record: 92-65, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Phil Maton (5-0)

Losing Pitcher: Josh Fleming (10-7)

Rays pounce on Urquidy in the first

Jose Urquidy did not have the first inning he wanted, allowing a single to start the game and a two-run homer to give Tampa Bay an immediate 2-0 advantage. He did rebound decently from that, though, retiring three of the following four batters to end that inning, and went on to get through the fifth without allowing any more damage. That's where his night would end, as after getting behind several batters along the way had already reached 91 pitches. His final line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 91 P.

Bregman homers to get Houston on the board

First out of Houston's bullpen was Yimi Garcia, who posted an impressive inning by sitting down Tampa Bay 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. The Rays also went to their bullpen in the bottom of the sixth, which was the change the Astros needed to get their first hit of the night, a solo homer by Alex Bregman to make it 2-1.

Blake Taylor took over in the top of the seventh, keeping it a one-run game by erasing a walk with a double play to end the frame. With the score still a one-run lead for Tampa Bay in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley came in and faced three batters, striking out two and allowing a walk before Phil Maton would wrap up the frame.

Astros walk it off

Another Houston homer came in the bottom of the eighth, as Jose Altuve would tie the game with a one-out solo shot to make it 2-2. Tampa Bay responded in the top of the ninth, though, as Maton remained in the game and was met by a one-out solo homer by Randy Arozarena to put the Rays back ahead 3-2.

The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the ninth, with Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa legging out infield balls to reach base. Kyle Tucker moved the runners to second and third on a groundout, then the Rays intentionally walked Aledmys Diaz and changed their reliever try and get the eight and nine spots of Houston's order out to end the game.

Chas McCormick spoiled those plans, working a walk after a ten-pitch at-bat to tie the game up 3-3. Jason Castro came in to pinch-hit for Martin Maldonado next, and he delivered the walk-off with a walk to end the game, ending Houston's four-game skid, and reduce their magic number to one.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start from Minute Maid Park on Wednesday. The expected pitching matchup is Drew Rasmussen (3-0, 2.67 ERA) for Tampa Bay and Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.23 ERA) for Houston.

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The Rockets will select No. 3 overall in the upcoming NBA Draft. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

It was not a good NBA Draft Lottery for the Rockets. Any suggestion otherwise is silly spin. It’s not stunning or catastrophic, but settling for the third pick in next month’s Draft is a definite disappointment. It could have been worse since picking fourth or fifth were possible outcomes, actually more mathematically likely than landing a top three pick. It could have been a heckuva lot better. Last season the Rockets were the worst team in the NBA but drew the second pick. Again this season the Rockets were the worst team in the NBA, this time they fall a spot lower as Orlando and Oklahoma City won the first two selections.

A year ago the Rockets were very happy to get Jalen Green at number two. After an awful first half of his rookie season Green came on like gangbusters. Had the Rockets finished second in Tuesday’s drawing, they were guaranteed to have access to either Auburn forward Jabari Smith or Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren as the second anchor piece of their rebuild. Instead at number three, six foot ten inch Duke freshman Paolo Banchero is the most likely Rocket selection. Nobody knows with any degree of certainty whose career will go how, and hey, maybe the Thunder takes Banchero leaving Smith on the board for the Rockets. But while Banchero is a fine prospect he is an athletic gear below the also six-ten Smith and lacks the unique upside of the seven foot beanpole Holmgren. With the Blue Devils, Banchero was a mediocre three point shooter and a mediocre free throw shooter. Maybe he was poorly coached! Obviously any 19-year-old’s skills can develop, but Banchero’s ceiling at this point is clearly lower than those of Smith and Holmgren.

Provided Holmgren and Green go one-two or two-one, if Banchero is not the pick at three it will be eyebrow raising but mean the Rockets opted to take a flyer on more athleticism. Think Purdue point guard Jaden Ivey, wing Shaedon Sharpe who did not play as a freshman at Kentucky, or least likely six foot eight Iowa forward Keegan Murray.

The Rockets have two picks in Round 1

In addition to the third pick, the Rockets have the 17th selection as the first useable asset (sorry Victor Oladipo) gained from the James Harden to Brooklyn trade. At 17 General Manager Rafael Stone will be chucking a dart at the board hoping to hit at least as well as he did at 16 last summer with Alperen Sengun. Sengun was fun to watch offensively and should be a solid rotation player, but he’ll never be a plus starter without at least a couple of terrific defenders on the floor with him. Sengun is simply too slow, and lacks the quick twitch muscles to ever be more than a mediocre team defender. Good small ball and spacing teams can play Sengun off the court. The Rockets’ defense was garbage this season with very little improvement shown as the season droned on. Either Smith or Holmgren would have been an immediate upgrade on that end over the shall we say, lethargic, Christian Wood.

Rockets outlook

The Rockets are in a challenging spot. They’re staring at a third straight season of NBA irrelevance, and their path to getting very good again is perilous. Jalen Green has the “wow” factor, but exactly nobody (nobody reasonable anyway) would prefer to have him going forward rather than Luka Doncic or Ja Morant. Doncic’s Mavericks and Morant’s Grizzlies are both in the Rockets’ division. So is Zion Williamson and New Orleans, though who knows if Zion will ever sustain good health and conditioning to fulfill his high-end potential. For the second straight season Oklahoma City was second worst in the West. The Thunder is armed with a proven quality GM in Sam Presti and holds much better draft capital than the Rockets in coming years, including getting the Rockets' first round picks in 2024 and 2026 unless they are top four picks.

When a team goes 17-55 and 20-62 in consecutive seasons it needs most things, including some good luck. That describes the Rockets in spades. They are a good bet to be lousy again in 2022-23. Owner Tilman Fertitta has acknowledged as much. A third consecutive losing season is extreeeemely likely. That will come after the Rockets had just three losing seasons total over the prior 36 seasons. If the Rockets’ 2022 lottery ticket doesn't pay off significantly, they’re staring at being NBA dreck for more than half a decade.

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