HOUSTON - The ball sailed over the train track that runs along the top of the left-field wall at Minute Maid Park and disappeared. Those following the flight path saw only a puff of smoke from a cannon fired in celebration of a rare sight - a home run that gave the Astros the lead. Forgive the Houston fans inside the stadium for their excitement. It had been four days since the Astros held a lead and five days since they won. It was nothing but zeros, too, as far as the offense was concerned once the Rays hit town Monday. But that all changed with two home runs from Astros left fielder Chris Carter, the second a three-run blast in the seventh inning off Jake McGee that powered the last-place Astros to a 4-1 victory in front of 14,143 mostly delirious fans.
"Carter hurt us, man," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He didn't miss two pitches. That one from Jake was properly struck. That's back wall anywhere. That was incredible." The loss snapped the Rays' four-game winning streak and paired with the Yankees' win in Minnesota, dropped the Rays into fourth place in the American League East. The loss came on the heels of two wild nights in which the Rays outscored the Astros 20-0. "You're not going to do it every night," Maddon said. "They're humans, not robots. Our guys came ready to play. We just got outpitched." Astros pitcher Bud Norris held the Rays to six hits and a run in seven innings. "He threw strikes. He's got good stuff. We just didn't get the big hit when we needed it," Ben Zobrist said. "I got some pitches to hit. I know other guys got pitches to hit. We just didn't capitalize." Desmond Jennings singled on the first pitch of the night and scored on a sacrifice fly by Zobrist. James Loney extended his hit streak to 14 games, one shy of his career-longest. But the Rays were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left seven on base. They also hurt themselves by grounding into double plays in the seventh and eighth innings. Roberto Hernandez took the loss, his 10th of the season. But a lack of support from his offense tripped him up Wednesday, just as it did in his previous start - a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays. The Rays have scored one run in Hernandez's past two outings. "Everything's good. We just haven't scored any runs for the guy," Maddon said. Carter tied the score at 1 when he opened the second with his first home run of the night, a more pedestrian poke of 370 feet to left field. Hernandez had extended the Rays' scoreless streak to 24 innings with a perfect first inning. That tied the team record for the longest scoreless streak set in 2008 and tied in 2012. Carter's home run was also the first run the Astros scored in 23 innings. His next home came in the seventh off McGee, who was called upon with no outs and runners on the corners. With Carter and former Ray Carlos Peña due to hit, Maddon called for McGee with the idea of McGee getting two strikeouts. "It's a tough spot to be in, but Jake's been there before," Maddon said. "You're looking for a couple of strikeouts. Of course, Carter has struck out a little bit this year, and Jake's able to do that, and you have Carlos behind that. It was a good spot for Jake, it just did not want to work out." McGee, who pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in Sunday's win against the Tigers, missed his location on a 3-2 fastball. "I didn't have real good location," McGee said. "I was trying to go more away, make him beat me the other way. It just ran back right in to his power zone." Carter drove the ball 413 feet. "That at-bat I was just trying to get the ball in the air with a runner at third and a tie-game situation," Carter said. "He just kept throwing fastballs away and I kept fouling them off and then ended up hitting one." [email protected] (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO