Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier returned to the starting lineup Saturday night for the club’s crucial Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros in San Diego.
Kiermaier missed three consecutive starts with a bruised left hand after being hit by a fastball from Houston right-hander Enoli Paredes in Game 3.
Kiermaier was used as a pinch-runner in Game 5, entering the game in the top of the ninth and raining in to play center field in a game the Astros won in the bottom of the ninth.
Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glove winner, didn’t play in Games 4 and 6. He is 2-for-9 in the series.
The Rays once enjoyed a 3-0 series lead before Houston rattled off three straight wins. Kiermaier said before Game 7 that very little needs to be said.
“There’s no words needed. We know what we’re playing for tonight,” he said. “We want to represent this organization and get to that final stage. We’re not playing for just ourselves and our family and friends. We’re playing for a community — all the Rays’ fans out there.”
Tampa Bay is looking to reach the World Series for the second time in franchise history. The Astros are striving to join the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the lone teams to recover from a 3-0 deficit and win a postseason series.
Charlie Morton is pitching for the Rays against this former team. Fellow right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will be on the mound for Houston.