BY: Richard W. Humphrey
American League All-Star starting pitcher, Dallas Keuchel, struck out a career high 13 batters in seven shutout innings to lead the Astros to a 10-0 victory over the Rangers Sunday afternoon in Minute Maid Park. Houston took Sunday’s rubber match to take the series two games to one. The Rangers are now five games under .500 at 43-48, good enough for third place in the West, 6.5 games behind second place Houston and 1.5 games ahead of fourth place Seattle.
Game one on Friday night marked the return of Martin Perez to the Rangers starting rotation. He was making his first start in more than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Perez lasted five innings, throwing 86 pitches and allowing three runs on nine hits. He walked the first batter he faced, but got out of the inning facing the minimum number of batters as he coaxed a pair of ground balls from the next two hitters, the first of which was good for a double play. A leadoff triple in the second inning led to the Astros first run. A pair of doubles to the first two batters in the third inning led to two more runs. All in all, it was a successful first start.
The Rangers rallied for single runs in the fifth and seventh innings. Three Ranger pitchers threw three hitless and scoreless innings in relief of Perez, but the offense couldn’t find another run in the eighth and ninth innings. Texas managed just the two runs despite knocking Astros’ pitchers for 15 hits.
3-2 was the final score. Perez (0-1) was the losing pitcher. Colin McHugh (10-5) was the Astros starting and winning pitcher. Three Houston relievers pitched innings seven, eight and nine. Luke Gregerson gave up a hit, but retired the other three Rangers he faced in the ninth inning to earn the save, his 19th this season.
Saturday’s game was promoted as 80′s night. Both teams wore retro-uniforms from the era. The Rangers wore powder blue, double knit pants and jerseys. Houston wore their famous (infamous?) rainbow orange and black jerseys. Neither look is one of the top uniform combinations in either team’s history.
On paper, Saturday’s pitching matchup looked to give the Rangers their best chance to win a game in this series. Colby Lewis came in with a 5-0 record at Minute Maid Park, while Scott Feldman came off the disabled list to start for the Astros.
Lewis did his part. He pitched into the eighth inning, and the Rangers built a 5-1 lead to take into the bottom of the eighth. Lewis retired the leadoff batter in that inning, but Jon Singleton followed with a single to end Lewis’ night at 100 pitches. It was just the fourth hit of the game for Houston.
Tanner Scheppers relieved and wasn’t effective. Scheppers retired the first batter he faced on a force out, but that was the only out he would record. Jose Altuve doubled home one run. Scheppers walked the next batter and then allowed a run scoring single. The final batter that Scheppers faced hit what looked like a routine ground ball to short. However, Elvis Andrus couldn’t come with it, and it rolled into center field scoring another Houston run. It was Andrus’s 16th error of the season. That allowed the third run of the inning to score bringing Houston to within a run at 5-4. Sam Freeman relieved Scheppers and got the final out.
The Rangers appeared to salt the game away in the top of the ninth. Adrian Beltre singled home a run, and then scored himself on a Josh Hamilton double to extend the lead to three runs at 7-4.
Shawn Tolleson took the mound to start the ninth, and the game complexion changed instantaneously. Colby Rasmus doubled and Hank Conger homered to again bring the Astros within a run at 7-6. Tolleson however slammed the door at that point. He struck out the next hitter and coaxed two ground balls to end the game.
Lewis was charged with two runs lowering his ERA to 4.63. His record is 9-4 with the win, the most wins on the Rangers’ staff. Tolleson earned his 14th save. Feldman was knocked around for four runs on nine hits and two walks over 5-2/3rds innings. He took the loss to fall to 4-5.
The Rangers’ offense almost matched Friday night’s hit output with 14. Of note, Sin-Shoo Choo, who did not start Friday’s game, was 2-2 with a sacrifice fly, a sacrifice bunt, and a stolen base. Josh Hamilton looked awful striking out his first two times up, but seemed to click in to finish with three hits, which included a double and his third home run. There is no question that if these two players go on a tear, the Rangers’ offense will be in much better shape.
Sunday’s game was no contest. Keuchel, the former Arkansas Razorback pitcher, was simply magnificent en route to his 12th win against four losses. He’s definitely in the conversation when the subject is “who is the best pitcher in the American League?”, as his 12 wins leads the A. L. He gave up just two hits early in the game and retired the final 18 batters faced. It was a dominating performance.
The Astros offense made Keuchel’s job easier by scoring early and often. Houston’s exciting rookie shortstop, Carlos Correa, doubled home a run in the third, and Rasmus followed with a home run to take a 3-0 lead. They added two more in the fifth, three in the sixth and two in the seventh to run the score up to 10-0.
Yovani Gallardo was the Texas starting and losing pitcher. He simply didn’t have it as he pitched two batters into the fifth inning, neither of which he retired, before Jeff Banister replaced him. It tied his shortest outing of the year (four innings) as he gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks to drop his record to 7-9.
Texas looks more and more like a team that will be selling veterans as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. They have now lost three series in a row; nine of the their last 11 games. The Rangers are 3-10 in July and 6-17 in their last 23 games, a .261 winning percentage. Both their July record and their record over the past 23 games are the lowest winning percentage in the Majors for those time frames. They have won just one of 12 series and have a 12-25 record (a .324 winning percentage) against their A. L. West competitors.
This road trip now moves west one time zone to Denver as Texas plays Colorado Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Nick Martinez (5-5) on Monday, Matt Harrison (0-1) on Tuesday and Martin Perez (0-1) on Wednesday.
Wandy Rodriguez was originally scheduled to start Monday’s game, but his curve doesn’t break as well in the thinner Denver air; so the Rangers switched to Martinez, who threw six innings and allowed three earned runs in two abbreviated starts at Round Rock after being sent down on July 2 to rest. Colorado counters with Chris Rusin (3-3), Kyle Kendrick (3-10) and Jorge De La Rosa (6-3). Rusin and De La Rosa are lefthanders. Texas was 1-3 against the Rockies last year, including 0-2 in Denver.
* The current road trip which began in Houston and ends in Anaheim with Denver in the middle is the Rangers first three time zone road trip since 2007.
* Texas is 14-20 in games started by opponents’ left-handed pitchers.
* Adrian Beltre tied Graig Nettles Sunday for the second most games played at third base with 2,412. Brooks Robinson with 2,870 is the all time leader. Beltre needs to play just four more games at any position to become the 54th player in MLB history to play in 2.500 games.