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Rays clinch top seed in AL playoffs, stall Astros in West

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Tampa Bay Rays' Ji-Man Choi (26) celebrates with Brett Phillips after hitting a three-run home run against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON – After locking down the top seed in the American League playoffs and the best record in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays were still looking for more.

“I don’t think we’re satisfied," starter Drew Rasmussen said. “We still have a chance to win 100 games."

Rasmussen and three relievers combined for a three-hitter, Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi both homered and the Rays coasted past the Houston Astros 7-0 Wednesday night.

The Astros lost for the fifth time in six games on a night they could have clinched their fourth AL West title in five seasons with a win. Their magic number to win the division is still one over Seattle, which beat Oakland 4-2.

“The key is you’re still on the cusp," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “There’s a whole bunch of people who ain’t on the cusp. You’ve got to play the game. Nobody is going to give it to you."

Tampa Bay improved to 98-60, outdoing the 2008 team for most wins in franchise history. With the best record in the AL, the two-time AL East champions secured home-field advantage through the AL Championship Series.

“You want to get in, you want to win the East and if you have a chance you want to do what these guys did tonight," manager Kevin Cash said.

Cash said he's known this team was special for a while but setting the win mark is a nice way to show it.

“It solidifies it that much more," he said. “There’s been a lot of good teams over the years... to be able to be at the top of the list with that many wins says a lot about the guys in the clubhouse."

It’s the third time the Rays will enter the playoffs as the top seed and they’re the first AL team to do it in consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees in 2011-12.

Rays rookie Wander Franco doubled and singled twice, and safely reached base for the 43rd straight game, tying him with Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest streak by a player 20 or younger.

Rasmussen (4-1) allowed one hit over five innings. Luis Patiño allowed one hit in two innings and Ryan Sherriff gave up one hit in 1 2/3 innings, but was lifted after walking a batter and hitting another one with two outs in the ninth. Louis Head took over and got the final out.

Lowe’s 31st two-run homer put the Rays up 3-0 in the second. Choi’s three-run shot in the fifth pushed Tampa Bay's lead to 6-0 before the Astros got a runner on base.

The Astros didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning Wednesday, a night after being held hitless until the sixth before rallying for a 4-3 victory.

“During this period it’s been tough, but these guys are tough," Baker said. “I’m not worried about them."

Rookie Luis Garcia (11-8) permitted seven hits and six runs, but only three were earned after a costly error by rookie center fielder Jose Siri in the second.

There were two outs and no one on when Brett Phillips hit a fly that fell out of Siri's glove. The ball then bounced off the wall and Siri bobbled it again, letting it fall to the ground while Phillips reached third.

Francisco Mejía’s RBI single to right field put the Rays up 1-0 and Lowe followed with his shot to right field.

“There’s always a danger of giving extra outs," Baker said. “That came back to bite us today."

Rays left fielder Manuel Margot robbed Jose Altuve of a hit when he sprinted to make a diving catch for the first out of the fourth inning.

Lowe doubled with one out in the fifth and Nelson Cruz drew a two-out walk. Choi sent Garcia’s next pitch to the bullpen in right center to pad the lead.

The Astros finally got a hit when Yuli Gurriel singled with one out in the fifth. But Carlos Correa grounded into a force out before Rasmussen retired Kyle Tucker to end the inning.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: INF Yandy Díaz was out of the lineup a day after leaving the game following the sixth inning with rib discomfort. But the Rays don’t believe the problem is serious and he expects to return Friday

Astros: OF Michael Brantley was activated from the injured list Wednesday after sitting out since Sept. 11 with a sore right knee. ... C Martín Maldonado left the game before the sixth inning with left shoulder soreness. ... RHP Zack Greinke (neck soreness) is scheduled to make a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Sugar Land Thursday night. ... RHP Josh James was optioned to Sugar Land Wednesday to make room for Brantley on the roster.

DELAYED

Play was stopped for a few minutes with two outs in the ninth when two fans — one with a oversized foam cowboy hat — ran onto the field and zig-zagged around the outfield while being chased by nine security guards. Both men were finally wrestled to the ground and led off the field and play resumed.

UP NEXT

Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. (12-5, 3.17 ERA) will start the series finale Thursday night. The Rays will go with an opener or Ryan Yarbrough (9-6, 5.09)

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