Houston wins in extras

Astros get a wild win in the eleventh over Rangers

Astros' Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley
The Astros took the first of four against the Rangers Thursday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Astros took the first of four against the Rangers Thursday night.

Having come away winners of five of their last six series, including a win on Wednesday against the Angels to secure the most recent one, the Astros welcomed in the Rangers for the first time in 2021 to start a four-game set to cap off this ten-game homestand. After trading runs early, the teams would stay tied late into the game, ultimately forcing extras where the Astros would grab the win.

Final Score: Astros 4, Rangers 3

Astros' Record: 21-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (1-2)

Losing Pitcher: Brett Martin (0-1)

Teams gridlock early

Cristian Javier was immediately put into a hole to dig out of on Thursday night, with Willie Calhoun turning the first pitch of the game around for a solo homer to give Texas an immediate 1-0 lead. After retiring the next three batters in order to end the first, Javier struggled heavily to find the strike zone in the second, loading the bases with no outs on two walks and a single. He would get out of it with just one run allowed, giving up a sac fly to make it a 2-0 game.

Houston would answer by loading the bases as well in the bottom of the second, setting up a bases-clearing three-RBI double by Jose Altuve to give Houston a 3-2 lead. The Rangers got one of the runs back to tie the game in the top of the third on an RBI groundout, tying the game 3-3 where it would stay for a while. After the early runs, Javier would rebound to finish seven innings, leaving with the game still tied. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 99 P.

The game heads to extras

Ryne Stanek took over for Javier in the top of the eighth. He didn't have his best command yet could still erase two walks for a scoreless inning to keep things tied 3-3. After stranding another runner in the bottom of the eighth, their tenth of the night to that point, Houston would send in closer Ryan Pressly in the top of the ninth. He would take care of the Rangers 1-2-3, setting up the Astros for a potential walk-off in the bottom half. They wouldn't make it happen in regular innings and instead headed to extras, with Texas starting with the first free runner on second in the top of the tenth.

Astros get the wild win in the eleventh

Bryan Abreu would allow the runner to move to third with a wild pitch to start things off, then walked his first batter. The defense behind him would bail him out in a big way, with a double play to keep the runner at third before Abreu would get a strikeout to maintain the 3-3 tie. In the bottom of the tenth, Carlos Correa moved the free runner to third with a groundout for the first out; then the Rangers issued intentional walks to Kyle Tucker and Aledmys Diaz to load the bases to face Myles Straw. Straw would lift a ball to right field for a potential sac fly, but not far enough past Joey Gallo's arm, who threw a dart to home to extend the game another inning.

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the eleventh and worked around a leadoff walk by retiring the next three batters, two on strikeouts, to give Houston yet another chance to finish things off. Jason Castro moved Myles Straw to third with a sacrifice bunt to start the inning, then with two outs, and after receiving two more intentional walks, Straw would race home on a wild pitch to win the game, 4-3.

Up Next: Game two will be Friday at 7:10 PM Central and features Zack Greinke (2-1, 4.23 ERA) for the Astros going up against Wes Benjamin (0-1, 4.76 ERA) for the Rangers.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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