By Brian McTaggart and Troy Provost-Heron
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays struck for three runs in the second inning and Jake Odorizzi tossed a scoreless return from the disabled list to give the Rays a 3-0 victory over the Astros at Tropicana Field on Saturday.
The shutout was the eighth of the season for the Rays and propelled them to their first two-game winning streak since June 19-20 at Cleveland.
"Nice to have Odo back," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He picked up where he left off and was outstanding. … He definitely made the pitches he needed to make when it mattered the most."
With the bases loaded after a one-out fielder's choice by Joey Butler, a two-out double by Asdrubal Cabrera and a walk by Jake Elmore -- that came a pitch after a controversial call -- Rene Rivera delivered a two-run single, which was quickly followed up with an RBI single by Brandon Guyer to tack the Rays to an early lead.
From there, Odorizzi pitched as if he never left, firing 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out five to receive the victory in his return. His opposition, Dallas Keuchel, allowed three runs on seven hits over seven innings and was pegged with his fourth loss of the season.
The Astros lost their fifth straight and are in danger of losing their hold on first place in the American League West -- if the Angels defeat the Mariners tonight -- for the first time in 83 days.
"The way things go now is if a few breaks don't go your way, that piles on you a little bit," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "But we got to fight our way out of it. This is a good learning process for us. We got to learn how to get out of this stuff and bring our best a little bit better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Welcome back: Entering Saturday's contest, Odorizzi had the fifth-lowest run support in the AL (minimum 10 starts) at 2.7 runs per nine innings pitched and had gotten more than two runs of support just twice in 12 starts, but the Rays gave the right-hander a welcome back present, scoring three runs in the second, which was more than enough to pick up his fifth win of the season.
"It's a lot nicer [to pitch with the lead], especially against that team, because they can score really quickly and hit the long ball," Odorizzi said. "Any runs off of Keuchel, you have to make the most out of, so I just wanted to go out there and put together some shutdown innings, and that's what we were able to do." More >
Tight pitch extends second: Keuchel appeared to have perhaps struck out Elmore on a 2-2 pitch with two outs and two runners on base in the second, but he didn't get the call. Elmore wound up walking to load the bases. The Rays proceeded to score three runs on a two-run single by Rivera and an RBI single by Guyer, which was all the offense Tampa Bay needed. Pitching coach Brent Strom was ejected in the seventh protesting the call.
"Everybody in the ballpark knew that was a strike, 2-2 to Elmore," Keuchel said. "That's a key pitch, and I've got to have that. I think [plate umpire Greg Gibson] knew he missed it, and he kind of opened it up after that. That was the ballgame right there. I've got to make quality pitches after that, but, man, it would still be 0-0." More >
Keeping the line clean: After retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced in the contest, Odorizzi ran into some trouble in the fourth after he allowed Tampa native Preston Tucker to reach on a single to lead off the inning and followed that up by walking Carlos Correa. Odorizzi was able to get the next two Astros batters, but another walk, this one to Luis Valbuena, loaded the bases. He tiptoed out of danger, though, and kept his scoreless game intact by getting Hank Conger to foul out to third baseman Evan Longoria.
"I think a lot of guys are working hard, but at the same time, it's a man's game and we're going to have to figure something out. We've played some good ball for a lot of the year so far, and that's quite an accomplishment, but we've got a long way to go still, and we've got to figure it out" -- Keuchel, on his team's losing streak
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By defeating the Keuchel, the Rays won their club-record 11th straight game against a left-handed starter. They are 16-8 versus left-handed starters this season -- tied with the Angels for the best winning percentage against lefties in the AL -- and have not lost to a lefty since J.A. Happ and the Mariners defeated them on May 26.
Butler grounded into a double play in the sixth inning, and after lengthy discussions between Rays manager Kevin Cash and the umpires, and then the umpires among themselves, the Rays decided to challenge the out call at second base, which was a bang-bang play between second baseman Jose Altuve and Logan Forsythe. After a 35-second delay, the call on the field was confirmed.
"There was a little bit of confusion on whether Logan beat the ball and whether the throw took him off the bag," Cash said. "Ultimately, we just decided to challenge the play. You factor in the neighborhood play, as they call it, so it's a little confusing sometimes with how that is defined."
WHAT'S NEXT Astros:Lance McCullers, a native of Tampa who grew up attending games at Tropicana Field, will make his first start before the hometown crowd in Sunday's 12:10 p.m. CT game. McCullers (4-2, 2.16 ERA) is starting for the first time in a week after the Astros decided to push him back in an effort to try to limit his innings.
Rays: After allowing eight runs over nine innings in his first two starts back from Tommy John surgery, Matt Moore (0-0, 8.00 ERA) will try to right the ship and send the Rays to the All-Star break on a positive note in Sunday's series finale at 1:10 p.m. ET. In his lone career start against the Astros back on July 1, 2013, at Minute Maid Park, he tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out nine en route to a win.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. Troy Provost-Heron is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.