Luis Garcia fans seven as Astros rule out Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Luis Garcia didn’t know how many cutters he threw Tuesday night until he returned to the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field after the Astros’ 5-0 win over the Rays.

The final tally: 97 throws, 45 cutters

“Oh my God, that’s a lot,” exclaimed a surprised Garcia.

“But I think it works,” he added.

It all worked like a charm for Garcia, who built on his impressive outing against Toronto last Wednesday with something even better: shutting down the best team in the major leagues in six dominating innings.

“Yeah, that was a really good outing, because they’re the best team in the league right now,” Garcia said of the Rays. “I’m just happy to win.”

Garcia and wide receiver Martín Maldonado said they have no special plan to beat the team that leads the major leagues in runs scored, OPS and a myriad of other offensive categories. They didn’t need it; Garcia’s strength – that cutter – could be used to exploit a weakness.

The Rays, despite all their success at home plate, entered Tuesday’s game ranked in the bottom five in MLB in OPS, wOBA and strikeout rate against cutters. That story came true as Garcia limited Tampa Bay to just two hits on 10 hits that ended on his best pitch. Those included three strikeouts and a handful of weak strikeouts.

Garcia allowed just two hard-hit balls and three hits, struck out seven batters and allowed only one baserunner past second base in his six innings.

“Garcia was awesome, especially against a hot team and a really good offensive team,” manager Dusty Baker said. “…He had command of every location. He was very good. We needed it.

After starting the season with three relatively tough starts, Garcia pitched 13 scoreless innings over his final two rounds. This stretch only includes five hits allowed, three walks and 16 strikeouts.

“I felt good in both,” Garcia said. “I’m just going to keep trying to do my job.”

The Astros’ roster would ultimately back its starter, busting for five runs in the fifth inning, which included four doubles against Rays starter Drew Rasmussen. Going into that frame, Rasmussen had allowed three extra hits in 26 1/3 innings this season. It was also the most runs allowed by Tampa Bay in any inning this season.

Jeremy Peña, José Abreu and Corey Julks each had a brace in the set, while Kyle Tucker and Jake Meyers added RBI singles.

Three balls came off Peña’s bat at an exit speed of over 100 mph on Tuesday, a night after he homered 432 feet at 107.6 mph.

“He doesn’t miss the pitches he’s supposed to hit,” Baker said of his sophomore shortstop. “He hit the ball really hard tonight. It’s great to see, because it takes time and work. It was great to see him get awards.

The first double of that fifth inning came from second baseman Mauricio Dubón, extending his hitting streak to 19 games, the best in MLB. With a hit on Wednesday, Dubón would have the Astros’ longest hitting streak since Hunter Pence’s 23-game streak in 2011.

What is the secret of its success?

“Close your eyes and pray,” Dubón joked. “And it works.”

A win in the series finale would put the Astros 7-2 in that three-series streak against some of the big leagues’ most talented teams — the Blue Jays, Braves and Rays. But for now, Houston will relish any opponent’s first victory inside Tropicana Field in 2023.

“You want to be the party animal,” Dubón said.

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