CODY STOOTS

Texans player of the game: Cunningham makes impact all over the field

Zach Cunningham scored a touchdown. Bob Levey/Getty images

As the Texans defense continues to get healthy, Zach Cunningham's contribution is clear each week. This week he set the tone early and helped the Texans extend their first-half lead over the Cleveland Browns on their way to their ninth straight win. 

Cunningham in coverage was active, nearly intercepting a pass from Baker Mayfield on the first drive for the Browns. In the second quarter, with the Texans leading by 10, Cunningham got his hands on a Mayfield pass again. This time though he didn't let it hit the ground. Rumbling back 37 yards, and running over teammate Benardrick McKinney in the process, Cunningham dove and extended for a touchdown. Though he was ruled out at the one, the replay review saw he stayed in for the score. 

"It was more of an instinctual play that I felt," Cunningham said. "Getting back on the ball, obviously made an amazing catch, great catch, so it definitely felt pretty good. It was my first pick, first touchdown in the NFL. Definitely felt great for me."

Cunningham joked he knew it was a touchdown and celebrated but had to wait for the official call. He said he knew he was scoring. 

"That means a lot," said DeAndre Hopkins of the Cunningham score. "We know we can go out there and depend on those guys to get the ball. That's championship football."

"The guy made a great play," said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Cunningham score.

Cunningham was a leader for the defense who slowed down a hot Cleveland rushing attack. Nick Chubb entered the game trailing only Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot for yards over the past four weeks. The game-flow didn't lend itself to rushing a ton as Cleveland trailed big after Cunningham's big play but the defense kept the Browns from getting comfortable. Cleveland managed just 31 rushing yards. 

With a healthy Cunningham, the Texans have one of the most stout rushing defenses in football. Cunningham adds a great element in coverage as well and the defense seems to operate a little smoother with him in there. With injuries to backups in the game, Brennan Scarlett went down with a leg injury, Cunningham is healthy at the right time. 

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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