SAN DIEGO — Hunter Renfroe’s two-run double capped a five-run sixth inning Tuesday night as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros, 5-2, to move one win away from a return to the World Series after 12 years.
Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley hit solo homers for the Astros, who could only manage five other hits, all singles. Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough gave up both homers, leaving after Brantley’s solo blast to lead off the sixth.
The Astros threatened in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out on singles by Altuve, Brantley, and Carlos Correa.
Lefty Aaron Loup came on and got Kyle Tucker to fly to right and Yuli Gurriel to ground to short. It wasn’t surprising: Tampa Bay relievers have stranded the first 20 runners they’ve inherited this postseason.
Diego Castillo, the fifth Rays reliever, pitched a drama-filled ninth.
With one out he walked, Abraham Toro-Hernandez and George Springer, bringing up Altuve as the potential tying run. But Castillo regrouped and struck out Altuve and got Brantley to fly to center for the save.
Game 4 of the American League Championship Series is Wednesday, and a victory then would give the Rays their first World Series appearance since the 2008 edition that featured Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria.
Meanwhile, Altuve has an undeniable case of the yips, and he continues to hurt the Astros badly.
The second baseman committed his fourth throwing error of the postseason and third of the ALCS in the sixth inning of Game 3, helping fuel the big inning.
Altuve also made two throwing errors in Game 2 of the series, contributing significantly to the Astros' 4-2 loss. The six-time All-Star’s three errors in the last two games led directly to five runs while prolonging rallies that would have been largely shut down by solid defensive play.
In Game 3, Altuve fielded Brandon Lowe’s grounder at second and then botched a routine toss to second base on an attempted force of Randy Arozarena, bouncing his throw past Correa at shortstop and into left field with a noticeably unnatural throwing motion.
With two runners on base, the Astros removed starter José Urquidy, who had been pitching well before Altuve’s mistake.
Tampa Bay promptly capitalized with back-to-back singles to take the lead. Joey Wendle’s two-run single with the bases loaded put the Rays up, 2-1, and it was 5-1 by the time the inning finally ended.
Altuve bounced two throws to first from shallow right field while playing in a defensive shift in Game 2. After his second error, Correa took Altuve’s normal spot in the Astros' shift, and he retained the spot in Game 3.
“You just hope he isn’t getting the yips, because invariably they come in bunches,” said Houston manager Dusty Baker, who gave Altuve a hug in the dugout after the third inning Monday. “Everything comes in bunches. I just told him to flush it. This guy has been awesome for us. You’ve got to flush it and move on, or else it multiplies. I’m sure he’ll do that.”
Altuve also made a throwing error in Game 2 of the first-round series against Minnesota. He committed only four errors during the regular season for Houston, which led the majors with a .991 fielding percentage.