HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.
Until they were not.
A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three consecutive home runs to open the sixth and saddle the Rays with a 5-1 loss.
That followed a one-run loss in the series opener and a one-run win Tuesday. The net result?
"We're not good enough,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Saying that, I'm sure there's good experiences in there and all that stuff. You want (your players) to be frustrated in the fact that we were close to winning two ball games. We were right there (Wednesday) in the sixth inning tied 1-1. But good teams find ways to win games. And we didn't find a way to win two of those games.''
Eovaldi, a Houston-area native and resident, had 20-plus relatives and friends on hand and showed well for five innings, allowing only a solo homer to Jose Altuve.
But the sixth started badly and got worse in a hurry.
George Springer started the parade, hitting an 0-2 fastball 437 feet over the centerfield fence. Two pitches later, Alex Bregman popped a slider 352 feet over the wall in left-center. And four pitches after that, Altuve laced — with an exit velocity in excess of 112 mph — a cutter 443 feet high above the left-center wall.
"I don't think he lost any effectiveness,'' Cash said. "I think it's the typical third-time-through-the-order effect that is so obvious throughout the game right now. And, they're really good.''
Eovaldi said "it was a little bit of both,'' noting the Astros' aggressiveness and his inconsistent command.
It was the seventh time a Rays pitcher allowed back-to-back-to-back homers, first since Matt Garza at Baltimore in 2010.
The Rays (34-40) headed home after going 2-5 versus New York and Houston to start a vexing 16-game stretch, next hosting the Yankees starting Friday.
The Rays rested regulars C.J. Cron and Matt Duffy so they would have back-to-back days off.
Starry eyes for Snell?
Houston's A.J. Hinch will manage the AL All-Star team next month. Even though MLB officials have taken over much of the responsibility in filling out the rosters after fans vote in the starters and players pick some pitchers and reserves, Hinch's opinion should count for something. And he made it pretty clear that Rays LHP Blake Snell deserves at least strong consideration. "He's a really good young pitcher,'' Hinch said. "Especially when you can navigate all those walks (seven) he did (Tuesday) and still come away with an effective outing. He's hard to hit. He's got electrifying stuff. He's one of the up-and-coming left-handed pitchers in our league, so I hope he gets rewarded with a chance to pitch in the All-Star Game. He certainly looks worthy from this side and from the conversations you have with hitters.''
Roster crunch coming
INF Daniel Robertson (hamstring) is set to be activated from the disabled list Friday. The cleanest way for the Rays to make room would be to trade SS Adeiny Hechavarria, who came back from the DL having lost his job with Willy Adames' recent promotion. But with no indications any deal is close, the Rays might have to decide whether to eat the $3.2 million remaining on Hechavarria's contract and release the free-agent-to-be or send down someone else — likely a pitcher — and juggle five players capable of starting at second, third and shortstop. In what seemed like a showcase, Hechavarria started at short for the second straight night, with Adames at second. "We're going to try to keep (Adames) at short as much as possible, but the flexibility to get him at second helps us out quite a bit,'' Cash said. "Obviously we're going to have some more flexibility/versatility issues when Robby comes back.''
Stats of the day
Decrease in ERA (4.58 -3.77) and opponents average (.260-.240) for Rays pitchers over 2016-17 with Kiermaier in centerfield versus when he's not.
Pitching, the Rays way
The Rays will open the Yankees series with RHP Ryne Stanek serving as the opener Friday, getting three-six outs, then likely be replaced by LHP Ryan Yarbrough. RHP Wilmer Font is scheduled to start Saturday and go as deep as he can in 90-100 pitches in what will by a bullpen day. Sunday, they'll use Snell like a normal starter. Cash said they've decided to have only one pitcher, Stanek, work as an opener to minimize disruption to the pen: "The juggling is difficult. It shows up, as many tight games (as we play)."
• Houston's 12-game win streak was the longest ever snapped by the Rays; they previously halted 11-game runs by the Rockies (2009) and Blue Jays (2013).
• Bowling Green C Ronaldo Hernandez won the home run derby at the Midwest League All-Star Game.
• A large crowd is expected for Saturday's game versus the Yankees, with a Devil Rays/Rays reversible jersey giveaway. Also, ex-Rays Mike DiFelice and Esteban Yan will be signing autographs at the 20th anniversary exhibit, and former Yankee Bucky Dent will do so at the Ted Williams Museum for a $20 charitable donation.