ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Lance McCullers Jr. struck out nine in seven shutout innings, and the Houston Astros beat Tampa Bay 9-2 Friday night in the first meeting of the teams since the Rays won Game 7 of last year’s AL Championship Series.
Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa had four hits each, and Alex Bregman hit a two-run homer for the Astros, who have won seven of nine following a 1-9 skid.
“It was a great win where we haven’t gotten a lot of wins,” said McCullers, who won for the first time in four starts since April 3.
He gave up three hits and three walks while throwing a season-high 111 pitches.
“My heater and my changeup have been off since we left spring training, and I was costing myself some really good performances,” he said. “Today I just wanted to establish (the fastball) and Maldy (catcher Martín Maldonado) let me know how good it was throughout the game.”
“He threw his fastball more and it was the best slider I’ve seen him have in a while,” said manager Dusty Baker. “He found his rhythm at the end. It looked like his pitch count was rising. If it wasn’t for those walks he probably could have gone eight or maybe finished in nine. But the nice thing is they didn’t get any runs.
McCullers (2-1) left the game with a 6-0 lead.
“I looked up and saw 93 pitches, and I thought he was going to pull me,” he said. “But I was really happy he let me in, that I got that extra leash.”
Bregman’s fourth home run this season came with Brantley on base in a 35-pitch third inning against starter Ryan Yarbrough. Brantley, Bregman, Yordan Álvarez and Correa had consecutive hits in the three-run inning that put the Astros up 4-0.
Aledmys Díaz had two of Houston’s 15 hits and drove in drove in four runs.
Yarbrough (1-3) gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings, striking out five.
Willy Adames drove in Tampa Bay’s runs with a bases-loaded single in the ninth.
Astros: RHP Andre Scrubb (sore right shoulder) was activated from the injured list and pitched the ninth inning. … RHP Peter Solomon was optioned to the alternate training site Thursday to open a roster spot.
Rays: LHP Rich Hill was placed on the COVID-19-related injured list, but the Rays are hopeful he can start Sunday’s game. . . . 1B-OF Yoshi Tsutsugo was 0 for 3 with a walk after spending one day on the list.
BAKER PASSES STENGEL, STANDS 12TH WITH 1,906 WINS
Baker’s 1,906th managerial victory moved him past Casey Stengel and into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time list. He stands 97 short of the recently retired Bruce Bochy, who is in 11th place.
Baker is the only manager in Major League history to take five different teams to the postseason.
RHP José Urquidy (1-2, 4.67) will make his sixth start of the season for Houston on Saturday against LHP Josh Fleming (1-2, 1.23 ) or an opener.
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