HOUSTON -- Unable to beat three aces in a row, the Tampa Bay Rays finally folded against Houston.
It didn't help that starter Tyler Glasnow was sure he tipped pitches in the first inning, when the Astros scored four fast runs.
With baseball's most inexpensive roster, the young Rays tried all they could to avoid elimination again Thursday night. They had an infielder in the lineup who barely played in the past month, went to their bullpen early to bring in their own Cy Young Award winner and kept changing pitchers the same way they did throughout the playoffs.
In the end, they still couldn't win three straight AL Division Series games against a trio of Astros arms with a combined salary of $66 million — about the same as the entire Tampa Bay payroll.
Gerrit Cole struck out 10 more Rays in eight innings, following his 15-strikeout performance in Game 2, and Houston won 6-1 in the decisive Game 5 to end Tampa Bay's outstanding season and advance to a third consecutive AL Championship Series.
"I think we surprised a lot of people. We believed in ourselves the whole way, we believed we could have done it. We went up against the best team, we gave them a fight in five games," said Eric Sogard, the journeyman second baseman who homered in his only start this postseason. "The best pitcher in the game beat us twice. ... You've got to tip your hat sometime."
After victories at home over Cy Young winners Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander to force this juicy series from Tropicana Field back to Minute Maid Park, the plucky Rays returned to Houston somewhat perturbed by a perceived lack of credit for what they had done.
Before winning Games 3 and 4 to extend the ALDS, they had already averted an early exit by winning the wild-card game in Oakland.
"It is really, really disappointing," shortstop Willy Adames said. "Cole was unbelievable again. I don't know if anybody can get better than that. He was unbelievable last start, and today was still the same. We just couldn't make an adjustment."
Instead of the Rays heading to New York for the ALCS, the Yankees will be in Houston for Game 1 on Saturday night.
Except for the homer by Sogard, who hadn't started since Sept. 14 because of lingering right foot discomfort, the Rays couldn't muster much against the major league strikeout leader who next month could become the third Cy Young Award winner on Houston's 2019 staff.
Cole struck out the first two batters of the game. Glasnow, like Cole a former Pirates pitcher before Pittsburgh traded away both right-handers in 2018, allowed hits to his first four batters — and all scored.
It was clear by how Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman communicated things to teammates after they had back-to-back RBI hits that they perhaps knew what was coming from Glasnow. The pitcher noticed on video later how he was tipping his pitches.
"It was pretty obvious as far as the tips go," said Glasnow, refusing to use that as an excuse for his rough start. "I left some pitches that were there to hit, like over the middle of the plate, and they're really good hitters and they can do things, I don't care how hard you throw."
Tampa Bay's pitching coach made a mound visit only three batters, and seven pitches, into the game to talk to Glasnow.
The 26-year-old right-hander threw 31 of 40 pitches for strikes and struck out three, but was done after 2 2/3 innings. Blake Snell, last year's AL Cy Young winner who lost Game 2 and saved Game 4, took over for 1 1/3 innings before manager Kevin Cash used seven more relievers to finish the game — six of them didn't even throw a full inning.
Tampa Bay used at least five pitchers in every game, and an ALDS-record 31 overall in the five-game series.
After Ji-Man Choi's single leading off the fourth for Tampa Bay's only other hit, Cole got 15 outs over the next 15 batters — benefiting from a double play after a walk in the seventh.
The Rays were down 4-0 before Sogard, acquired from Toronto in a July trade, went deep to right on the first pitch of the second inning.
They never got any closer.
"It stings a little bit right now, but I'm so proud to be part of this team and this organization," center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "It was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball, and that's what it's all about."