SAN DIEGO - Randy Arozarena homered again at Petco Park and Mike Zunino drove in the go-ahead run for the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Houston Astros 2-1 Sunday night in the opener of the AL Championship Series.
Blake Snell allowed José Altuve’s homer as he labored through the first inning on 29 pitches before the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner settled down to pitch five innings for the win.
Diego Castillo got the five outs for the save. He came on with the bases-loaded with one out in the eighth and got out of it with one pitch when Yuli Gurriel grounded into a double play. Aaron Loup had loaded the bases on a hit batter, walk and single.
Game 2 is Monday afternoon when the Rays turn to 36-year-old Charlie Morton, who was with Houston when it won the 2017 World Series. Houston counters with Lance McCullers Jr.
The Astros, who got into the playoffs with a losing record, are in the ALCS for the fourth straight season and are trying to advance to the World Series for the third time in that span.
They are villains in many people’s eyes for their sign-stealing scandal three years ago, when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. They also remain unapologetic.
Tampa Bay is trying to reach its second World Series after losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
Zunino singled past diving shortstop Carlos Correa to bring in Willy Adames with the go-ahead run with two outs in the fifth off lefty Framber Valdéz. Adames reached on a leadoff walk and advanced on consecutive ground outs to Valdéz.
Arozarena continued his breakout postseason with his fourth homer in six games, sending a 1-2 pitch from Valdez to center field with one out in the fourth to tie it at 1. He homered in each of the first three games of the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, also in San Diego.
Nicknamed “The Cuban Rocket,” Arozarena defected to Mexico in 2015 and signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He made his big league debut last year and was traded to the Rays in the offseason.
He tested positive for COVID-19 during intake testing prior to summer camp and didn’t make his 2020 season debut until Aug. 30.
The only Rays with more homers in a postseason are Melvin Upton Jr. with seven and Evan Longoria six, both in 2008.
Altuve homered in his third straight game, driving a 2-1 pitch from Snell to left with one out in the first.
Snell allowed one run and six hits, struck out two and walked two.
Astros: McCullers allowed four earned runs and eight hits in four innings of Houston’s 10-5 victory against Oakland in the opener of the ALDS.
Rays: Morton got the decision in the Rays’ 8-4 win against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS.