Houston took the early lead on a solo home run from shortstop Jose Altuve in the top of the first inning and they held that lead until Tampa Bay tied the game in the bottom of the fourth on a solo blast by Randy Arozarena.
The Rays went out in front an inning later on an RBI single by Mike Zunino and the Tampa Bay pitching staff made the advantage stand up, the bullpen pitching four scoreless innings.
Rays win opener behind timely hitting, clutch pitching
After retiring George Springer to lead off the game, Altuve blasted a 2-1 pitch from Snell into the left field seats for a solo shot to put the defending AL champions out in front. Michael Brantley followed with a single, but Snell got out of further trouble.
Houston threatened in the top of the third when Springer singled, but was caught stealing at second. Altuve singled thereafter, but the Astros could muster nothing more. In the bottom of the third, Kevin Kiermaier doubled, but he too was caught stealing at third.
Snell labored in the top of the fourth as Alex Bregman singled and Carlos Correa walked. Kyle Tucker lined into a double play, but the 2019 AL Cy Young winner walked Yuli Gurriel to put runners on first and second.
Aldemys Diaz hit a liner back to Snell, who initially thought he had caught it, but the ball rolled behind him and everyone was safe. With the bases loaded, Martin Maldonado lined out to end the threat.
Houston starter Framber Valdez pitched three solid innings, but made his first mistake of the night when Arozarena tied the game, parking the first pitch he saw over the right-center field fence to tie the game. Brandon Lowe would reach on a swinging bunt, but Valdez got out of the inning.
Snell pitched a scoreless fifth and the Rays took the lead in the bottom half. Willy Adames walked and moved to third on back-to-back groundouts by Manuel Margot and Kiermaier. Zunino then singled past Correa, scoring Adames.
John Curtiss relieved Snell, who threw 105 pitches in five innings and allowed a leadoff single to Bregman, who was cut down at second on a fielder's choice. With Correa now on the bases, Tucker advanced him to second on a groundout and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Gurriel drew a walk, but Diaz grounded out to end the threat. Valdez was still in the game and got out of a mess he created in the bottom of the sixth after issuing walks to Diaz and Adames. Blake Taylor relieved Valdez in the bottom of the seventh and gave up a double to Kiermaier and hit Mike Brosseau.
Facing his minimum three batters, Taylor was relieved by Enoli Paredes, who retired Arozarena and Lowe. The Astros threatened in the top of the eighth against Aaron Loup when Brantley was hit by a pitch, Correa walked with one out and Tucker singled to load the bases.
Rays manager Kevin Cash brought in closer Diego Castillo and he induced a double play on the first pitch by Gurriel to end the threat. Brooks Raley came on for Houston in the bottom of the eighth and gave up a leadoff single to Diaz. A two-out walk to Margot put two men on, but Raley kept Tampa Bay in check.
Castillo remained in for the top of the ninth and allowed a one-out single to pinch-hitter Josh Reddick. Advancing to second on a dribbler down the third base line by Springer, Castillo fanned Altuve to end the game.
Game 2 of the series is Tuesday afternoon at 4:07pm. Lance McCullers Jr. will take the mound for Houston while ex-Astro Charlie Morton will be on the hill for Tampa Bay.