ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Colome faced the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning with the Rays up just a run. For the second straight game, he'd need to get out of a bases-loaded jam to preserve a win. And for the second straight game, he did just that. Colome struck out Colby Rasmus and got Evan Gattis to ground out to secure a 4-3 Tampa Bay win over Houston on Friday night.
Gattis' ground ball was hit slowly to Brad Miller at short. He had a one-hop throw to Steve Pearce that was dug out to give the Rays their sixth win in seven tries.
"I was waiting for him to catch the ball, because it was a bad throw," Colome said. "But he did a great job, a great catch."
The Rays scored all four of their runs with two outs. Pearce belted a two-run double in the first. Then Logan Forsythe, in his first game off the disabled list, had an RBI double of his own in the second. Miller singled him home. Houston starter Lance McCullers shut the Rays down after that over six innings, but the damage was done.
"I've got to start to find that groove a little earlier," McCullers said. "I can't put our team in a 4-0 deficit in the second inning. It's ridiculous."
The Rays' Matt Andriese was effective for his first 16 outs, but then he allowed a double, high off the wall, to Luis Valbuena. It was followed by an RBI single from Tyler White and a two-run homer from Jason Castro. Andriese, who had been cruising, was pulled from the game after it became 4-3.
The Rays, who momentarily had a 7-0 lead before an umpire conference turned Evan Longoria's three-run homer into a long foul ball, had seen its early comfortable lead nearly slip away. But a combination of Erasmo Ramirez, Xavier Cedeno and Colome shut the door. Colome got his 18th save in 18 tries to set a Rays' record for the start of a season.
"We just need to keep that momentum going," said Pearce, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. "It picked up when we were on the road the last two series. We just want to keep the momentum on our side."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Pearce is fierce: Pearce had spent much of the past two road series on the bench with an aching elbow. But in his first at-bat back in the starting lineup, he roped a two-run double to put Tampa Bay up 2-0 in the first. It all came after the Rays won a challenge at first base to keep the inning going.
"I'm not trying to do too much," Pearce said. "... I'm just hitting the ball wherever it's pitched. Hopefully I can stay there and keep the momentum going."
Not-so-happy homecoming: McCullers attended Jesuit High in Tampa, but his return to the area was anything but welcoming. The damage happened fast. He surrendered four runs and four hits through two innings, placing the Astros into a 4-0 hole. All of the Rays' production in the two innings happened with two outs.
"I think he gets more comfortable on the mound as he gets into his outing," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of McCullers. "He's very particular with trying to find his arm slot, trying to find his pitches. Once he gets a feel for his breaking ball, it ends up being a put-away pitch for him. … I think there's just a touch off the gas pedal at the beginning of the game that continues to come back and hurt him." More >
Very relieved: After Andriese allowed three hits and three runs over the course of three batters, Rays manager Kevin Cash went to the bullpen in the sixth inning. Ramirez got five outs. Cedeno was perfect in the eighth. And Colome shut the door after some drama in the 9th.
"The bullpen comes in and just does a phenomenal job of finagling away to keep it there at a 4-3 lead," Cash said.
Missed opportunities: The Astros weren't short on baserunners Friday, but an inability to capitalize on the chances cost them. They stranded 11, including seven in scoring position. They also outhit the Rays 11-8.
"Close game, tough loss, opportunities missed," Hinch said. "We kept fighting, got ourselves in a hole. But we kept playing. Just one run short."
"Matt Andriese, I thought he was good, but I thought he was battling quite a bit. The tempo, the pace just wasn't quite like we had seen in the past. And that's OK, you're not always going to be locked in out there." -- Cash
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Early innings haven't been kind to McCullers. He has an 8.00 ERA in the first three innings, but a 0.57 ERA in the fourth through the seventh this season.
The Rays' Hank Conger had thrown out just three for his last 66 baserunners before he caught Jake Marisnick on a pitchout to end the sixth inning.
With two outs in the first inning, the Rays challenged the call on the field that Longoria grounded out at first base. The call was overturned after a 53-second delay. The Rays had two more hits in the inning after that, which led to two runs.
Longoria thought he had a three-run homer in the fourth inning when his fly ball hit the C-ring of the Tropicana Field catwalk. The umpires got together as Longoria trotted the bases and ruled it went foul. A review later confirmed that. He ended up grounding into a 5-3 double play.
With one out in the ninth, the Astros challenged that Marwin Gonzalez was tagged out at second base after a ground ball to right field. After a two-minute review, Gonzalez was ruled safe and awarded a double. Tony Kemp advanced to third on the play.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers (3-3, 5.00 ERA) receives the start for Houston when the second game of a three-game series against Tampa Bay begins at 3:10 p.m. CT on Saturday at Tropicana Field. Fiers, a native of Hollywood, Fla., will make his first career appearance against the Rays. He's 2-0 with a 4.03 ERA in five career appearances (three starts) against the American League East.
Rays: Right-hander Chris Archer (4-7, 4.73 ERA) will start for Tampa Bay against the Astros at 4:10 p.m. ET. Archer is 3-1 with an 0.80 ERA in his career against Houston. He allowed three runs over six innings in his last start in Arizona and is replacing Drew Smyly in the rotation, whose start is being skipped.