SAN DIEGO – Manuel Margot hit a three-run home run one batter after a crucial Houston error and made a spectacular catch in right field in his former home ballpark, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Astros 4-2 Monday to take a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Margot homered off Lance McCullers Jr. with two outs in the first inning on an 87-degree afternoon. An inning later, he tracked George Springer’s long foul ball to right field while shielding his face from the sun and caught it as he tumbled over a padded railing atop a wall and landed on a walkway near the seats down the line at Petco Park.
Margot popped up and held up his glove with the ball in it after a 102-foot sprint. That ended the inning, stranding two runners.
Margot was an outfielder with the San Diego Padres from late in the 2016 season until being traded to Tampa Bay on Feb. 8 for reliever Emilio Pagán.
Margot homered to straightaway center field on an 0-1 pitch from McCullers with two outs in the first. It followed a throwing error by second baseman José Altuve from shallow right field on a grounder by Ji-Man Choi. The throw hit the ground before going in and out of first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s glove.
The play originally was ruled an error on Gurriel, but the official scorer later charged the error to Altuve. When Gurriel returned to the dugout, he slammed his glove onto the bench.
Margot’s big plays made a winner of 36-year-old Charlie Morton, who helped Houston win the 2017 World Series, and spoiled an otherwise fine effort by McCullers, who lost despite striking out 11 in seven innings. Morton improved to 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in the last two postseasons.
The Rays had to hold on through a tense ninth, when Nick Anderson twice loaded the bases. One run scored when Springer hit into a double play. After walking Altuve and Michael Brantley on four pitches each, Anderson got Alex Bregman to fly out on the first pitch to center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, a step in front of the warning track.
Game 3 in the best-of-7 series is Tuesday night, when the Rays will send Tyler Glasow against Houston’s José Urquidy. Because this is a neutral site, the Rays, the top seed in the AL, were the home team in the first two games and Houston will bat last in Games 3 and 4, and Game 5, if necessary.
McCullers retired 14 straight, nine by strikeout, before Mike Zunino hit a 454-foot homer into the back bullpen beyond the fence in left-center for a 4-1 lead in the seventh. It was his third this postseason.
Houston’s Carlos Correa homered to the same spot off Pete Fairbanks with one out in the sixth. It was his fifth of the postseason.
The Astros are in the ALCS for the fourth straight year and are trying to get to the World Series for the third time in that span. The Rays are halfway to their second Fall Classic. They lost to Philadelphia in 2008.
Morton, who signed with Tampa Bay before the 2019 season, allowed five hits in five shutout innings. He struck out five and walked one.
McCullers allowed four hits and four runs, one earned, and walked none.
While the Astros struggled on defense, the Rays made some nice plays. Besides Margot’s big catch, shortstop Willy Adames made a nice sliding backhanded stop of a grounder by Alex Bregman and threw to first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who stretched out to catch it.
Altuve made another throwing error on Brandon Lowe’s grounder in the third.
Remembering Joe Morgan
There was a moment of silence before the national anthem for Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, who died Sunday at his home in Danville at 77. A photo on the scoreboard showed Morgan in an Astros jersey. He played his first nine seasons with Houston before becoming the sparkplug of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. He played with Houston in 1980 toward the end of his career.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said he was shocked to hear of Morgan’s death, and said he meant a lot to African-Americans and to players who were considered undersized. “He was one of the first examples of speed and power for a guy that they said was too small to play. He was the first modern-day (José) Altuve.”
Rays: Glasnow (2-0, 4.05) will make his fourth start of the postseason. He beat the New York Yankees 7-5 while striking out 10 in Game 2 of the AL Division Series and then started the clincher and went 2 1/3 innings on just two days' rest.
Astros: Urquidy started Houston’s Game 3 loss to Oakland in the ALDS, giving up four runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings. That should line up Zack Greinke to start Game 4, although Baker wasn’t ready to commit to that on Monday. Greinke has had a sore arm.