BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Houston Astros completed a four game sweep of the Texas Rangers this weekend.  The wins for the Astros moved them back into a virtual tie for first place in the American League West.  They technically are in second place trailing Seattle by percentage points.  The losses for the Rangers buried them further into the division basement, now a season high 15.5 games out of first place.  Texas trails fourth place Oakland by eight games in the standings and nine games in the loss column.

Sunday’s finale was a heart breaker for Texas.  Starting pitcher Matt Moore turned in an all too familiar performance allowing two first inning runs and four more in the second.  Ranger manager Jeff Banister had seen enough after three innings and 50 pitches.  He brought in Jesse Chavez to start the fourth.

The Rangers’ offense had a good day, battling back with two run innings in the second, third and fifth innings to tie the game at six.  Chavez held the Astros in check for three innings, but gave up a seventh inning home run to Yuli Gurriel to put the Astros back in front.

The Rangers however came back again in the eighth to tie the game with Adrian Beltre singling home Nomar Mazara.

The momentum looked to be with Texas going to the ninth, at which time the stangeness began.  Keone Kela delivered a pitch to Evan Gattis with runners on second and third and two outs.  There was no call on the pitch, but Houston manager A. J. Hinch came out of the dugout to petition for a balk.  And the umpires gave it to him.

Banister was livid.  All agreed later that Kela’s move was a balk, and there would not have been an argument if the umpires had called it when it happened.  Banister was ejected.  Gattis made the third out.  The Rangers went quietly in the bottom of the ninth inning.  The final score was Houston 8, Texas 7.

Kela is 3-3 with the loss.  Houston reliever Will Harris (2-3) was the winning pitcher, and Hector Rendon pitched a scoreless ninth for Houston to earn his third save.

The headline for the first game of the series could well be “Cole Out Duels Cole”.  That would be the Astros’ starting pitcher Gerrit Cole out pitching Rangers’ starting pitcher Cole Hamels.  They were both excellent.

Gerrit Cole walked the lead-off batter (Shin-Soo Choo) in the bottom of the first inning.  Two singles later, Choo scored the only run that Cole would allow on the night.  He gave up just one more hit after the first inning completing six innings with eight strikeouts.

Cole Hamels blanked Houston for the first three innings, and then the Astros struck for three runs in the fourth inning to take the lead for good.  A double and single tied the game at one.  Evan Gattis then homered with two outs to put the Astros ahead.

The Astros extended the lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning when Jose Aluve singled, stole second and scored on a single.  Hamels came out for the eighth inning, retiring the first batter he faced, but then surrendered another home run to Alex Bregman to end his night.  His final line read 7-1/3rd innings pitched, five earned runs allowed, on seven hits and two walks.  He struck out five.

The Rangers mustered a ninth inning run off Ken Giles, the fourth Houston reliever of the night, to make the final score 5-2.  Gerrit Cole is 7-1 with the win, while Cole Hamels falls to 3-6 with the loss.

On Friday night, Choo homered in the bottom of the first to again give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.  The lead didn’t last long.  Houston opened the second inning with a single, a walk and another single off Doug Fister to tie the game at one apiece.  Another single and a double followed to bring home three more Astro runs making the score 4-1.

Justin Verlander was the Astros’ starting pitcher, and he was not in his finest form.  A double, a walk and another double in the third inning closed the margin to a run at 4-3.  That was all the damage the Rangers would do against Verlander.  He completed eight innings and saw his league leading ERA RISE to 1.45.  He’s 8-2 with the win.

Houston padded the lead with an Alex Bregman home run in the fifth inning, a solo shot, and with a two-run round tripper from Altuve in the seventh inning.  7-3 was the final score.

Fister left in the sixth inning with injury.  He literally began walking to the dugout after throwing a pitch to Yuri Gurriel leading off the sixth inning.  It was diagnosed with soreness in his right knee.  His record is 1-7 with the loss.

Saturday’s game was one of the stranger games of the year.  The free swinging Rangers rarely accept walks from opposing pitchers; but on this night, Astros’ pitchers managed to walk 10 batters and hit five more.  (The five hit batsmen is a new Ranger record, and it should have been six as Profar was hit in his final at bat on a 3-2 count, but the official scorer ruled ball four instead of hit by pitch.)

Another Ranger reached base on an error giving Texas 16 free base runners.  Add to that five hits, and the Rangers put 21 runners on base out of 47 plate appearances.  Texas however didn’t cash in on Houston’s pitching largesse.  Ranger batters went 1-17 with runners in scoring position to muster just three runs.  Texas left 17 runners on base, including 10 in scoring position.

Mike Minor turned in a quality start – just barely.  He completed the minimum six innings with the maximum of three earned runs allowed to qualify.  He was aided by two spectacular catches in center field by Delino DeShields, and another Houston base runner was cut down trying to stretch a single into a double by a magnificent throw from right fielder Nomar Mazara.

Jose LeClerc gave up a run in relief to take the loss in the 4-3 Houston win.  He’s 1-3 on the year.

Houston’s Carlos Correa did not play in the series.  He was pronounced fit for Sunday’s game, but with an off day on Monday, Hinch decided to wait two more days to put Correa back into the lineup.

The schedule is strange in many ways this year, and the strangeness shows this week.  The Rangers are off on Mondany, the fly to Los Angeles for two games with the Dodgers.  This series will be the Rangers’ first inter-league play of the season after 68 games against American League teams.  Texas is then off again on Thursday before returning to Arlington next weekend.  The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Bartolo Colon and Cole Hamels against the Dodgers.

The Astros are off Monday, and then meet the Athletics for three games in Oakland.  Lance McCullers, Jr., Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander are the announced starting pitchers.


*     ON BASE STREAKS:  The two longest current on-base streaks in the Majors belong to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo (26 games) and the Astros’ Alex Bregman (23 games), both of whom reached base in all four games.

*     The Rangers placed Doug Fister on the disabled list and brought up Hanser Alberto from Round Rock.  With two off days next week, Texas will not need a fifth starter again until June 19, and Banister felt the team was better served for this week’s interleague play with an extra position player.


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