Rays' offense stuck in neutral again as Astros force Game 6

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Tampa Bay Rays' Austin Meadows tosses his helmet after flying out during the ninth inning in Game 5 of a baseball American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SAN DIEGO – Except for an occasional homer, the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense has fallen largely silent on the brink of the World Series.

For all their superb pitching, sublime defense, tactical innovation and relentless cheerleading from the dugout, the Rays might not go any farther if they can’t simply put some men on base and score a few more old-fashioned runs than the Houston Astros.

Tampa Bay hit three solo homers and stranded nine runners in a 4-3 loss Thursday in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, failing to finish off the series for the second straight day while absorbing back-to-back defeats for the first time since Sept. 8-10.

“That big hit has continued to elude us with guys on base,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.

With Carlos Correa's walkoff homer against formidable Tampa Bay reliever Nick Anderson, the Astros avoided elimination and trimmed the Rays’ once-daunting series lead to 3-2 after a string of missed offensive opportunities for the AL East champions.

Given two chances in about 24 hours to clinch their franchise’s second trip to the World Series, the Rays came up with just three runs and seven hits apiece in their two losses. Tampa Bay went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in Game 5 after going 1 for 4 in Game 4.

It's no secret the Rays are struggling at the plate in the postseason, batting just .210 with a .695 OPS — both easily the lowest among the four teams still alive. It hadn't really hurt them until the last two days in the ALCS, when the Astros squeaked out a pair of wins.

“We’ve been streaky throughout the course of these playoffs,” Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "We’ve had some offensive outbursts a few games, and then we’ve been quiet for a lot of them. Our pitchers have been so good that if we squeak three or four across, we win a lot of these games.