After a string of three singles opened the scoring for the Astros in the first, a three-run home run off the bat of Aledmys Diaz in just his second game back from injury gave Houston an early led as a product of the game plan coming into the rubber match against the Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
“We had to be aggressive early on in the count with the fastball and that’s one thing we did today,” Diaz said after the game. “Tried to find the fastball early in the count and make some damage.”
That early damage was followed by singular runs in the fifth and sixth inning before a two-run double by Michael Brantley pushed the Astros’ advantage to 8-4 which would be the final score to help the hosts take the series two games to one. The Rangers have now lost six series in a row and five consecutive day games.
Diaz’ home run matched the highest number of runs allowed by Texas’ starting pitcher Lance Lynn in his starts this year but that wasn’t the only stat Houston manager Dusty Baker had been eyeing ahead of Thursday’s matchup.
“He’s really revamped his game, this was the first time I’ve seen him in person since he’s been with the Rangers and he’s recreated himself,” said Baker, who previously saw Lynn pitch in the National League. “A pitcher like that, if you don’t get him early and let him get into the game, he gets tougher and tougher. I was looking at his pitch counts per game and he’s over 100 every game so he’s certainly a workhorse and if you don’t get those guys early, it’s tough.”
The Astros’ starting pitcher Zack Greinke said that although he made some mistakes the Rangers capitalized on (runs in the even innings), he found his groove after the first couple of innings and completed a six-inning, nine-strikeout performance where he only allowed three earned runs to earn his fourth win on the season. Since the acquisition that brought him to Houston from Arizona, Greinke has an 11-1 record in 18 starts with a 2.97 ERA.
“I didn’t come in (to this season) super in shape because it took so long before the season started and I tried to take my time getting ready instead of rushing to get ready which not everyone had the luxury to be able to relax through the shortened spring training,” Greinke said. “I have gotten sore a couple of times, I’m not sure if I went to the training room at all last year with this team, but this year my neck was bothering me and they fixed it pretty good.”
Although it was announced a platoon of players including Alex Bregman would soon be returning from injury, Jose Altuve left the game in the second inning after suffering a lower leg injury sliding into third base. Baker said Altuve received an MRI after the game.
“It’s been some kind of year for, especially key players, going down,” the manager said. “Praying he’s OK, I think a spike got caught on the corner of the bag and he hurt his knee.”
Despite all of the injuries the team has suffered so far, George Springer said the way the rest of the team has rallied around to fill the gaps has been a strength.
“I think it’s something that our team has done well for a long time,” said Springer, who finished with two hits and two runs scored Thursday. “There’s a lot of guys that have really stepped up every year when a guy goes down so I know it’s a shorter season but it’s still the exact same mentality.”
The Astros sat just two games behind first-place Oakland in the AL West standings after Thursday’s win but a crucial road trip awaited the team from Houston after it notched its Major League best 16th win at home this year.
“We’re within reach but definitely gotta have a much better road trip than we had last time we were on the west so we’re looking forward to it, we’ve got some big games,” Baker said. “Anytime you play a team four times, as we are Anaheim five times, you become very familiar with the opposition and they become familiar with you so it’s a huge road trip.”
The Astros will play nine games over the next six days after having to make up some postponed games and will finish the west-coast swing with two games against the Dodgers before returning home for another Lone Star series against the Rangers starting Tuesday, Sept. 15.