Rays chase Verlander, level series with Astros

Tommy Pham of the Tampa Bay Rays singles against the Houston Astros during the second inning in game four of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Tuesday. — AFP

LOS ANGLES — Willy Adames and Tommy Pham belted homers and Tampa Bay chased Justin Verlander early as the Rays forced a deciding game five in the AL Division Series with a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros.

Pham hit Verlander's eighth pitch of the game for a home run to spark a three run first inning for the Rays, who evened the best-of-five series at 2-2 on Tuesday.

"We did a better job of putting the ball in play," said Pham of the wild card Rays. "Kudos to us.

"We have a great pitching staff, we play great defense and our bats are starting to come together."

The series now shifts back to Houston for a decisive game five on Thursday.

The top seeded Astros opened the series with 6-2 and 3-1 wins before Tampa Bay swept a pair at home, including a 10-3 win on Monday.

Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said being the underdog has its advantages.

"People before this series started talking about David and Goliath," said Kiermaier. "I understand they are really good on paper and we might be the team that is not as appealing, but don't ever count us out.

"We got guys feeling really good about themselves and we are clicking as a team all year. That is a dangerous recipe for success."

A half dozen Tampa pitchers combined for a six-hitter as Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell came out of the bullpen for his first career relief appearance and held off Houston in the ninth inning to earn the save at Tropicana Field.

Astros ace Verlander was not so fortunate. He was starting on just three days rest for the first time in his career after dominating the Rays in game one. But he looked shaky on the mound and was pulled in the fourth.

The veteran was charged with four runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out five.

"I walked a couple of guys. They came up with some big hits when they needed to. It is not the way you script it, sucks," said Verlander.

Adames clubbed a home run off Verlander and gunned down Jose Altuve at home plate in the fourth.

"We never panicked," said Kiermaier. "It is even better now. We got a lot of momentum."

The Astros finally got on the board in the eighth when Robinson Chirinos hit a two-out, solo home run off Colin Poche to close the gap to 4-1. — AFP