Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander, with an 11-4 career record against the Tampa Bay Rays, opted to pitch on short rest in Game 4 of the 2019 ALDS. The move didn’t go so well, and the Rays became the first team in playoff history to tag Verlander for three runs in the first inning. Six Rays pitchers combined for a six-hitter and allowed just one run in a 4-1 victory. The Rays evened the best-of-five series at 2-2.

Houston Astros ALDS Justin Verlander
Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander reacts after he gives up a home run to Tampa Bay Rays SS Willy Adames in the fourth inning of the 2019 ALDS Game 4 in St. Petersburg, FL.  (Image: Scott Audette/AP)

The bookies were overconfident in Verlander who boasted an 8-0 career record in the ALDS coming into Game 4. They listed the Astros as -240 money line favorites with Verlander on short rest. The Rays came into Game 4 as a home dog with +205 on the money line.

The Rays won two elimination games in a row at the Trop in St. Pete’s, and forced a Game 5 in Houston on Thursday. For only the fourth and fifth time all season, the Rays sold out their home ballpark. Despite securing a wild-card spot with a second-place finish in the AL East, fans in Tampa didn’t come out to cheer on their team.

“Certainly, players like to play in front of a lot of fans,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Everybody recognizes that. But when it mattered, when it counted they showed up.”

Despite playing in front of sparse crowds all season, the Rays persisted and advanced to the postseason with a date in the wild-card game against the Oakland A’s. The Rays flew out to Oakland as a huge underdog, but surprised the A’s and advanced to the ALDS against the top-seeded Houston Astros.

The Rays couldn’t buy a hit during the first two games of the ALDS in Houston. Verlander and Gerrit Cole ripped out their hearts, and the Rays were outscored 9-3.

The Rays remembered how to hit in Game 3. Their bats woke up, and the Rays spanked the Astros 10-3. After the ugly loss, Verlander told AJ Hinch he wanted the ball in Game 4 even though he would be on short rest.

Verlander Short Rest Gamble

With the Astros up 2-1 in the series, Verlander wanted the ball so he could knock out the Rays in Game 4. The risky move would allow the Astros to reset their rotation for the impending ALCS against the Yankees. However, instead of looking two moves ahead, the Astros failed to complete the task at hand.

The Rays jumped on Verlander early when Tommy Phan went deep in the bottom of the first on the 8th pitch of the game. They tagged him for three early runs, which was a shocking feat that had never happened before. The Rays added another run in the fourth inning when shortstop Willy Adames launched a solo homer. The Rays knocked out a stunned Verlander with two outs in the fourth inning. He allowed seven hits, three walks, and four runs in only 3.2 innings.

The Rays were up 4-0 for most of the game. The Astros finally got on the board when catcher Robinson Chirinos smacked a solo home run in the top of the 8th inning. A ninth-inning rally for Houston fell short.

Rays manager Kevin Cash tapped Blake Snell for his first career relief appearance with one out in the 9th inning and runners on the corners. Snell got the final two outs and picked up the save.

The Rays opted for an opener in Game 4, with Diego Castillo pitching 1.2 scoreless innings to start. Ryan Yarbrough earned credit for the win when he pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Castillo. Overall, the Rays bullpen scattered six hits and yielded just one run against the Astros.

On Deck: Game 5

The Rays will face Gerrit Cole once again in Houston for ALDS Game 5 on Thursday evening. Cole whiffed the Rays 15 times during a dominant performance in Game 2. Cole will be well rested and waiting to unleash his flamethrower.

The bookies opened Game 5 with the Astros -275 favorite on the money line. Tampa Bay will send Tyler Glasnow (Game 1 loser) to the mound in Game 5. The bookies listed the Rays at -255 underdogs on the road.

The over-achieving Verlander will be waiting in the bullpen for a shot to jump into do-or-die ALDS Game 5. He threw 100 pitches in Game 1, and 84 pitches in Game 4. He’ll be ready to pitch an inning or two if he gets the call. But the way Cole had been pitching all season (20-5, 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP), AJ Hinch probably won’t need Verlander’s relief services.

Mattress Mack is going to have a heck of a sweat after placing a $3.5 million wager on the Astros to win the 2019 World Series.