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.
“To have the ability to know where you’re at, and kind of be able to say, ‘Forget it, I know I’m going to hit something but I’m going in,’ and still hang on to the ball, was really, really impressive,” manager Kevin Cash said.
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.
“I think all the time I played here, I never played right field,” Margot said through a translator.
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.