HOUSTON — The Astros struck out more batters on Sunday afternoon than the franchise ever had in a nine-inning game. And they lost.
Lance McCullers Jr., who contributed 11 of the team’s 19 strikeouts, was brilliant for much of his outing. He sat down 11 straight Rangers to begin the day and completed his first four innings by allowing just one baserunner. The curveball was filthy, the command was precise and a superb outing was brewing.
Then McCullers’ outing was spoiled in his final two innings, and the Astros were swept for the first time this season with a 4-3 loss to the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.
"We got swept," McCullers said. "We got swept by the worst team in the division, record-wise. It’s always tough to swallow. Baseball’s a lot of games, man. We’re still first place in the division and we have a big, big series in Seattle. We’ve got to turn the page."
Regardless of the 19 whiffs, five errors contributed to the Astros’ suboptimal defense all series long, and their offense didn’t do much to propel the club through its flaws. Having won eight consecutive games against the Rangers entering this series, this weekend was different.
Texas outscored Houston, 22-8, in the three-day set, pegging its cross-state rival with its fourth consecutive loss and first series sweep since Sept. 8-10, 2017, at Oakland.
The Rangers’ first run scored in the fifth inning, beginning McCullers’ slide away from a sparkling afternoon. McCullers spun one of his 11 strikeouts to Ronald Guzman, but the pitch was wild and Guzman reached base. A single from Robinson Chirinos sent Guzman to third and Delino DeShields roped a double to send him home.
DeShields’ ball was trapped underneath the fence in left field, so it was called a ground-rule double and sent in one run. The Rangers knocked three doubles in the sixth and added three more runs, but only two were earned and the damage was done against a quiet Astros offense.
First baseman Tyler White, recalled to take Jose Altuve‘s spot on the team’s active roster after Altuve was placed on the 10-day disabled list Saturday, took an 11 p.m. PT flight Saturday from Fresno, Calif., had a layover in Chicago and arrived in Houston around 8:45 a.m. CT on Sunday.
"Just kind of playing off of adrenaline," White said. "It’s kind of a rush, coming in yesterday. Sometimes you see it coming, but it was kind of, like, out of nowhere. They were like, ‘Hey, you’re going up maybe tonight.’ Kind of a whirlwind last few hours."
Yuli Gurriel — playing second base for just the second time in his career in Altuve’s absence — notched the Astros’ fifth error in three games against the Rangers. Gurriel’s flub allowed a key run to score in the sixth.
The Astros (67-40) will leave behind a forgettable series this week and move onto a three-game series against the Mariners, who are in second place in the American League West, without Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s also on the 10-day DL.
"I want to forget them, to be honest," said Astros manager AJ Hinch. "I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t really want to do much about it. We’re getting beat up, so I think we need to get to the next series. Obviously, we’ve got some things to address. … I’m going to try to take away absolutely nothing away from this series."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
For the most part, McCullers was cruising until the sixth inning. Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar led off the inning with back-to-back doubles, one of which ricocheted off McCullers’ wrist, bounced into center field and sent in the first of three runs in the frame to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead.
"There’s a couple of things that happened in the three-run inning," Hinch said. "It’s easier said than done, but if he can get out of the way, the ball’s hit right at Bregman up the middle, but it deflects off of him. We had the botched play behind him. There’s a little bit of bad luck involved."
McCullers’ 11-strikeout day came without issuing a walk. It marked his fourth career 11-strikeout performance and his third this season.
HE SAID IT
"I feel like they are not the same team with Correa and Altuve out. Not taking anything away from their other guys, but you take those two out, they are not the same." — Rangers starter Mike Minor, on the Astros
The Astros will begin an eight-game road trip at 9:10 p.m. CT on Monday against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Houston will send Gerrit Cole to the mound to begin a testy American League West duel between the division’s two frontrunning clubs. Seattle will counter with left-hander James Paxton.