MLB OPENING DAY

For openers, Astros knock off Rangers 4-1 to begin title defense

Justin Verlander was on his game in the opener in Arlington. Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

A huge American flag in the outfield. Watching an amazing flyover after the national anthem. The cheer from the crowd the first time the home team takes the field, followed by the first “play ball!” of the season. Is there anything better than MLB opening day? Just one thing: a win.

The Astros started their World Series defense with a 4-1 win over the Rangers in Arlington on Thursday afternoon. They were led by a strong outing from ace Justin Verlander, who had run support thanks to RBIs from George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Jake Marisnick.

That RBI from Springer came on the third pitch in the game, getting a season-starting leadoff home run for the second year in a row, the only player in MLB history who can make that claim. The dinger made it 1-0 Astros right off the bat, a lead they extended in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from Altuve to make it 2-0.

They quickly extended their lead to 3-0 on a solo shot from Jake Marisnick in the third, and the score would stay that way deep into the game thanks to a strong first start from Verlander. Verlander went six full innings, throwing 90 pitches which resulted in only four hits for the Rangers, no runs, and five strikeouts.

Chris Devenski got his first inning of work in the seventh, a nearly perfect inning where he blanked the Rangers with two strikeouts. In the top of the eighth, Correa drove in Altuve, who scored from first on a great read on the hit paired with his amazing speed, bringing the score to 4-0 heading into the eighth.

Brad Peacock took over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, throwing a scoreless inning with one strikeout. Ken Giles looked to bounce back from a poor postseason in 2017 and start 2018 on a good note when he came in to close the game in the bottom of the ninth, but instead gave up a leadoff double to Elvis Andrus who would tag on a fly ball then score on a wild pitch to get the Rangers their first run of the game and make it 4-1. Giles eventually got the final out with a strikeout, sealing the Astros' first win of the season.

Next up: The Astros will continue the four-game series in Arlington tomorrow through Sunday before heading home for the home opener on Monday. Stay tuned to SportsMap for our weekly recaps of the Astros all season.

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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