Kevin Kiermaier's three-run home run put the Tampa Bay Rays ahead to stay

Washington (AFP) - Kevin Kiermaier smashed a three-run home run as the Tampa Bay Rays routed the Houston Astros 10-3 on Monday to sustain their title hopes in the Major League Baseball playoffs.

The host Rays pulled within 2-1 of the Astros, who had baseball’s best record, in the best-of-five American League division series. Game four will be played on Tuesday, also in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Houston’s Jose Altuve opened the scoring with a first-inning solo homer but Kiermaier’s blast in the second inning put the Rays ahead to stay.

“Running around the bases not feeling my feet hit the ground was a great feeling,” Kiermaier said.

“They have been hammering me with a bunch of off-speed. I got a change-up over the plate. It felt good. We’ve been needing that. For us to go up two from there was huge. We’re better when we’re not playing from behind.”

Tampa Bay pitcher Charlie Morton, a 35-year-old American right-hander who played with Houston the past two seasons, struck out nine batters while issuing only three hits and two walks over five innings.

Morton improved to 4-0 in career playoff elimination games.

“Nothing ever bothers him. He’s so composed,” Kiermaier said. “It seems like it’s just another game for him. We had to win or our season is over. Couldn’t ask for anybody better up there than Charlie. I’d go into battle with him any day.”

South Korean slugger Choi Ji-man smashed a line drive solo homer in the third inning to put the Rays ahead 4-1.

Tampa Bay broke open the game with four runs in the fourth on Brandon Lowe’s solo homer, a two-run double by Austin Meadows and a single by Tommy Pham to score Meadows.

Houston’s Yuli Gurriel smacked a two-run single to centerfield in the sixth inning to lift the Astros within 8-3 but Willy Adames answered with a solo homer for the Rays in the bottom half of the inning.

Tampa Bay’s Travis D’Arnaud plated Avisail Garcia with a sacrifice fly in the seventh to produce the final margin.

In later games Monday, the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers will try to advance.

In National League matchups, the Braves own a 2-1 series edge on St. Louis entering game four against the host Cardinals while the Dodgers, also ahead 2-1, try to defeat Washington as they bid for a third consecutive trip to the World Series.

The visiting Yankees will try to complete a sweep of Minnesota to reach the American League Championship Series.