Joakim Soria showed no signs of nerves or butterflies when he stepped on a major league mound for the first time in almost two years Sunday.
Cory Burns appeared just as comfortable after an early morning drive from Round Rock to Rangers Ballpark.
Soria and Burns were among five relievers with scoreless innings to help the Texas Rangers hold on for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros.
The Rangers took the weekend series 2-1 over Houston, owner of the worst record in baseball. They did it by relying heavily on their bullpen, which combined for 12 innings in the series and has thrown 401/3 over the last 10 games.
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Soria and Burns were added to the bullpen mix a few hours before the game and immediately contributed.
“The bullpen deserves all the credit,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
“Outstanding job,” manager Ron Washington said. “Everything they gave us we certainly needed.”
Action started in the bullpen early with starter Justin Grimm struggling again.
The Rangers had taken a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a three-run home run by Pierzynski, but Grimm gave up a two-run homer to Marc Krauss in the second.
Adrian Beltre then went deep in the third to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead, but Grimm allowed another run in the fourth.
The Astros then tied it in the fifth. Grimm started the inning by giving up singles to Brandon Barnes and Matt Dominguez, and then made an errant pickoff throw that allowed the runners to advance to second and third.
Three pitches later during an at-bat against Jake Elmore, the Rangers had another error when Pierzynski tried to gun down Barnes at third with the ball glancing off Jurickson Profar’s glove and into left field to allow an unearned run to score.
Grimm walked Elmore, and exited with runners at the corners.
Burns got Jose Altuve to pop up, and the inning ended with a double play. Burns got Brett Wallace to strike out swinging on a changeup, and Pierzynski threw out Elmore trying to steal second.
“That’s what we train for, to come into those situations,” said Burns, who earned his first big league win. “I just needed to make pitches and try to minimize damage as much as possible.”
Burns (1-0) was in line for the win after the Rangers took the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Ian Kinsler reached on an error, moved to second on a walk by Elvis Andrus and scored on a single by Nelson Cruz.
The Rangers had two on and no outs at that point, but weren’t able to cushion their lead. The inning ended on a double-play fly ball by Pierzynski, as Cruz tried to advance to second and was thrown out easily.
Fortunately for the Rangers, the bullpen made the one-run lead stand up.
Soria made his Texas debut in the sixth and showed his previous form with an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. It marked the end of a long journey back for Soria, who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery for a second time in his career on April 3, 2012.
“It was worth it,” Soria said. “Every single day that I spent in Arizona, it was worth it. Now that I’m here, I just want to help this team win the championship.”
Pierzynski gave Soria a “welcome back” handshake after the inning, and closer Joe Nathan gave him the game ball afterward.
It was a nice moment for Soria on a day the bullpen came through. After Burns and Soria, Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and Nathan closed it out.
“We kept taking our turns,” Nathan said, “putting zeroes up.”