Rays pummel Astros, force gm 4

Tampa Bay starting pitcher Charlie Morton was masterful again Monday to lead the Rays past Houston. 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Morton to the rescue, again.

Kevin Kiermaier hit a go-ahead, three-run homer as Tampa Bay teed off on Zack Greinke, and the Rays got another clutch playoff performance from Morton to beat the Houston Astros 10-3 Monday and cut their AL Division Series deficit to 2-1.

Facing the team he helped win the World Series two years ago, Morton allowed one run and three hits while striking out nine over five innings. The 35-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA in four career elimination starts, including last week’s wild-card win at Oakland.

“It’s just what Charlie’s done all year,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s got that knack for doing some special things for us, and he did it again.”

Astros manager AJ Hinch announced after the game that Houston will start Justin Verlander on three days of rest in Game 4 of the best-of-five matchup at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. Tampa Bay will use Diego Castillo as an opener.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the world. Not more complicated than that,” Hinch said of Verlander. “He’s ready, and it’s his game.”

Kiermaier got the wild-card Rays going with his long home run in the second inning.

Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe added solo shots off Greinke, who has never won in Tampa Bay, and Willy Adames added a solo blast against Wade Miley in the sixth.

Tampa Bay’s four home runs matched a franchise record for a postseason game. The Rays also went deep four times against the Boston Red Sox during the 2008 AL Championship Series and did it again during last week’s 5-1 wild-card victory against the Athletics.

“For us to put three runs on the board, that felt great.

That was huge for us,” Kiermaier said. “After that, it’s just, ‘Hey, Charlie Morton, go do your thing, go do what you do.’ And he did just that.”

Jose Altuve homered for the Astros, who are one victory away from their third straight appearance in the ALCS, and had two of Houston’s three hits off Morton. It was Altuve’s 10th career postseason home run, tied with Chase Utley for the most by a second baseman in major league history.

Scherzer saves Nationals season

WASHINGTON (AP) — Max Scherzer’s season-saving, seven-inning pitching performance and Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run homer lifted the wild-card Washington Nationals to a 6-1 victory over the league-best Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday to force a deciding Game 5 in their NL Division Series.

Scowling and muttering to himself in his third appearance of this postseason, Scherzer allowed one run and four hits while striking out nine.

Most importantly for Washington, he and the Nats prevented LA from closing out the NLDS after taking a 2-1 lead into Game 4.

Game 5 will be Wednesday in Los Angeles, with Stephen Strasburg set to start for the Nationals against Walker Buehler.

The 35-year-old Zimmerman showed what he still can do at the plate by taking a 97 mph pitch, the second thrown by reliever Pedro Báez, and turning it into a high-arching parabola that descended onto the green batter’s eye in straightaway center field for a three-run shot that made it 5-1.

That was after Julio Urías, the third Los Angeles pitcher and the one charged with the loss, began the fifth by serving up a hard liner by Trea Turner, who finished with three hits. Anthony Rendon delivered a run-scoring single that made it 2-1, one of his three RBIs.

When Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took the ball out of starter Rich Hill’s hands, he turned it over to a bullpen full of question marks. He turned to starter Kenta Maeda for a successful inning-plus of relief. Then Dodgers came apart as a revolving assortment of relievers allowed five runs.

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