HOUSTON — After being the victim of right-hander James Shields’ complete game Friday night, the Houston Astros were looking to even the series Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park with the hope of forcing a rubber game Sunday afternoon.
However, Rays center fielder B.J. Upton blasted a solo homer in the sixth and drove in two runs, while three-time All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and Casey Kotchman added two RBI apiece, to lift starter Wade Davis and Tampa Bay to a 7-2 victory.
Manager Joe Maddon’s squad has scored 27 runs in five games during their current road trip, with Longoria driving in nine.
Longoria put the Rays on the scoreboard with an RBI double off Houston starter Bud Norris in the opening frame, and Johnny Damon and Upton each contributed run-scoring singles over the next two innings to give Davis a solid 3-0 cushion.
Carlos Lee cut the lead to 3-1 in the fourth inning with a sharp double to deep right center that scored Hunter Pence, who had drawn a walk.
Lee finished with two hits, as the veteran slugger continues to quietly excel, hitting .306 since May 1 — good for second on the team.
Norris (4-6) gave up three earned runs on six hits with three walks and five strikeouts over five innings to earn his sixth loss.
“He was working to find his stuff,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “His command kind of got him in trouble with those walks, but he kept battling through it. I think it was 95 pitches through five innings. He wanted to go back out there, but it was a situation where we were down and were trying to get some baserunners.”
According to Mills, Norris tweaked his left shoulder while covering first base earlier in the game, which was a concern for his next at-bat.
“It was kind of bothering him,” Mills said. “He seems to be fine. I haven’t talked to him or the trainers, yet. He came out, but at the same time, we are glad that it’s the left shoulder. He kept working and trying to get through it, but again, his command wasn’t as sharp.”
Upton’s homer in the sixth inning gives him solo home runs in consecutive games, thus marking the second time he has accomplished this feat this season, with the first from April 4-5 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Tropicana Field.
Davis (7-5) allowed an earned run on five hits with one walk and three strikeouts over seven innings to earn his third straight win.
It marks the second three-game winning streak this season for Davis, who has compiled a 2.84 ERA during his current stretch.
Pence’s RBI double in the eighth made it 4-2.
Unfortunately for Houston, that was the closest they would get the remainder of the night, as the Rays pushed three runs across the plate in the ninth.
Longoria gave Tampa Bay a three-run lead with a run-scoring single and Kotchman put the icing on the cake with a two-run single off Sergio Escalona, yet the three earned runs were charged to reliever Enerio Del Rosaro, who didn’t record a ninth-inning out.
Although it appeared to be a commanding victory by Tampa Bay, the Astros had opportunities to regain control of the ballgame.
Once again, their Achilles’ heel was not being able to produce with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-7, while the Rays went 4-for-16.
“We had an opportunity to really do something,” Mills said. “A few times, we really hit the ball on the button. We didn’t get anything for it.”
Second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who’s hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, went 2-for-4 with a double, walk and a run scored.
The Astros will attempt to avoid the sweep Sunday when J.A. Happ (3-9, 5.33) gets the starting nod against Tampa Bay right-hander and Rice University product Jeff Niemann (2-4, 4.82 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. CT.
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