By DICK SCANLON
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Rays ace Shane McClanahan was pulled in the fifth inning with neck tightness during a 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
“He did not want to come out, was not happy about that, but we’re trying to make the best decision,” manager Kevin Cash said.
The AL All-Star Game starter and Cy Young Award contender allowed five runs for only the second time this season, pushing his ERA to 2.36. McClanahan (12-6) was making his second start after returning from the 15-day injured list due to a left shoulder impingement.
“It was like full extension and I just felt a little tweak or something like that, but it went away immediately,” McClanahan said. “I guess they saw it as I was stretching it out or whatever, but I feel fine. I cannot stress that enough.
“Middle of September, I respect the precautionary move. I am just getting off the IL, so I can see, I guess, the err of caution.”
McClanahan walked Jose Altuve leading off the fifth, then threw three straight balls to Jeremy Peña. Cash and a trainer then came out of the dugout and pulled McClanahan, even after the 25-year-old appeared to tell Cash, “I’m good.”
“I think we all understand how important he is to our club, and if I see something that’s uncharacteristic, I think the best decision is to pull him out of the ball game,” Cash said. “It’s OK for him to be mad at me.”
McClanahan walked four and allowed five hits while throwing 80 pitches.
Peña hit a three-run homer, Altuve scored three runs and the Astros won for the ninth time in 10 games a day after clinching the AL West championship. It was Houston’s 17th shutout of the season and they improved their AL-leading ERA to 2.90.
“Our pitchers have been dominating all year. It’s impressive to watch,” Peña said. “I’m the biggest fan from shortstop.”
Altuve reached base and scored on each of his first three plate appearances, all against McClanahan. Peña’s 19th homer came in the third inning after Altuve’s second hit, putting the Astros up 4-0 before the Rays had a hit.
“That’s the mentality in the clubhouse,” Peña said. “Clinching was the first step, but we know we have a long way to go and the job’s not finished.”
Kyle Tucker drove in Houston’s first run with a double in the first for his 100th RBI of the season.
The Rays went into the day one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays and a half-game ahead of the Seattle Mariners in the chase for the AL’s top wild card.
Houston starter Cristian Javier (10-9) gave up only one hit, a two-out single in the fifth by Christian Bethancourt. Javier won his fourth straight start, striking out six in five innings.
Ryan Pressly got the final two outs with the bases loaded for his 29th save in 33 attempts.
A double and a single by Wander Franco were the only other hits for Tampa Bay.
Yandy Diaz doubled in the eighth as a pinch hitter for the Astros, his first major league hit.
Astros: DH Yordan Alvarez, who left Monday’s game early with an apparent ankle injury after a slide into second base, was out of the lineup. Manager Dusty Baker said Alvarez’s planned day off was moved up from Wednesday.
Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe took an injection for his lower back discomfort. He will re-evaluated Thursday, when he is eligible to come off the injured list.
NO CHAMPAGNE FOR BAKER
Baker wasn’t much of a participant in the Astros’ champagne celebration after they clinched the AL West on Monday night.
“I’m not a real champagne man. I had some people get on me because I don’t like champagne. Now it’s back to work,” he said. “It was fun. It was really fun for the first-time guys. If you haven’t been through it, there’s nothing like it.”
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.34) will make his seventh start of the season for the Astros in Wednesday night’s series finale against RHP Corey Kluber (10-9, 4.44).
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