BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas -  The Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers split a four game series to start the post-All-Star game portion of the schedule.  The Rangers won the first two games to raise hopes that they could win the series, but Houston came back to win the final two for the split.

It’s not likely that the Rangers will catch Houston for the division title, but to do so, they need to do well in the head-to-head games.  The split thus kept the status quo with Houston in the division race.  The Rangers are still nine games out of first place in the A. L. West.

However, Oakland swept a three game series with the White Sox this weekend to take over the second Wild Card position and push the Rangers farther out of the Wild Card race.  Texas has the fifth best record among the non-division leaders trailing number two Oakland by three games.  Tampa Bay rests in the first Wild Card slot, 1.5 games ahead of the Athletics.  Cleveland and Boston are ahead of Texas trailing Oakland by one-half game and two games respectively.

The Rangers took charge of Thursday’s series opening game early.  After Lance Lynn retired the Astros in the first inning, Texas hitters struck for four runs chasing Astros’ starting pitcher Framber Valdez after he retired just two batters.  A walk, single and ground out scored the first run.  A single and a double followed to push the second run across.  Rougned Odor doubled home the last two.

Lynn was brilliant.  He blanked the Astros for seven innings, striking out 11.  Jose Leclerc and Chris Martin finished the shutout by tossing scoreless eighth and ninth innings.  The Rangers added another run in the third inning to win 5-0.

It was Lynn’s 12th win, giving him the Major League lead.  Valdez took the loss to go to 3-5.

Surprisingly neither of these good offensive teams homered Thursday night, but they made up for it Friday.  They combined to hit nine!  Astro rookie Yordan Alvarez continued his ravaging of Major League pitching.  Hit hit two round trippers to bring his total to nine in just 21 Major League games.  He’s a keeper.

Texas trailed 8-4 going to their half of the seventh inning.  Tim Federowicz homered in the seventh inning, and Ronald Guzman homered in the eighth inning to send the game to the ninth tied at eight.

Amazingly after hitting nine round trippers, the game was decided by a good old fashioned rally.  Shawn Kelley blanked Houston in the top of the inning.  A one out Elvis Andrus single put the potential winning run on base.  Andrus stole second base, which precipitated a semi-intentional walk to Joey Gallo.  Odor struck out, but Danny Santana singled home the winning run, the first walk-off hit in his Major League career that made the final score 9-8.

Kelley went to 5-2 with the win, while Astro closer Rafael Osuna took the loss to fall to 3-2.

Saturday night, Mike Minor made his first start in 12 days, and the rust showed.  He had difficulty hitting his spots, and his velocity was down.  He lasted five innings, throwing 92 pitches and giving up four runs on seven hits.

Shin-Soo Choo and Santana homered leading off the Rangers’ half of the first inning.  A sacrifice fly and a throwing error plated two more Ranger runs in the third inning to give Texas a 4-3 lead.  It was short lived as Houston pushed across single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 5-4 lead.  Delino DeShields then tied the game in the seventh inning with his third home run.

The game stayed tied until the 11th inning, when Jose Altuve doubled home a run and later scored on Myles Straw’s single.  DeShields singled home a run for Texas in the bottom on the 11th, but that was all the Rangers could muster.  The final score was 7-6.

Josh James (4-0) was the winning pitcher.  Chris Martin (1-1) was the loser, and Roberto Osuna pitched the 11th to earn his 20th save.

Justin Verlander started the Sunday game for Houston.  No team has much of a chance to win when Verlander starts.  He completed six innings allowing two runs on four hits.  The Astros held a 5-2 lead when Verlander finished the sixth, but they broke it open with seven runs in seventh inning.  With a 12-2 lead, there was no need for Verlander to pitch any longer.  Four relievers finished off the Rangers.  Texas was only able to score twice more to make the final score 12-4.

Verlander is 11-4 withe the win, and Ariel Jurado is 5-5 after getting rocked for five runs in the first two innings.

Houston is off to Anaheim for a four game series against the Angels.  Texas has Monday off before hosting Arizona in their last home interleague series.  The announced starting pitchers for Texas are Lance Lynn (12-4) on Tuesday, and Jesse Chavez (3-4) on Wednesday.  Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05 PM CDT.


* Hunter Pence is expected to be activated from the injured list Tuesday for the Arizona series.

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