The Texas Rangers hadn’t punched a ball into the outfield through three innings Wednesday night, but held a slim lead thanks to the Houston Astros being the Houston Astros.
But in the fourth the Astros weren’t the Astros, scoring three times to take the lead, while Tampa Bay and Cleveland were being themselves and cruising toward victories that would keep them in place as the American League wild-card teams.
Panic might not have set in the home team’s dugout, but there were some uncertain moments among the 43,207 at Rangers Ballpark.
Not to worry, though, as the Astros quickly reverted to being the Astros again. The Rangers also reverted to the form so many have come to know at the plate to help keep them within playoff striking distance.
The Rangers scored five times with two outs in the fourth inning, and Martin Perez overcame a three-run hiccup in the fourth to pitch seven innings as the Rangers beat the Astros 7-3 and completed a three-game sweep.
The Rangers remained two games behind Tampa Bay and one behind Cleveland with four games remaining. If the Rangers and Indians finished tied after 162 games, a play-in game to the wild-card game would be played Monday in Cleveland.
“You just get the mentality of taking care of the business in front of you,” manager Ron Washington said.
“If they win out the string and we win out the string also, that’s just the way it is. We really can’t concentrate on what Cleveland and Tampa are doing. We have to concentrate on what’s in front of us.”
Ian Kinsler added a solo homer in the sixth and had two RBIs as the Rangers won their third straight game and beat Houston for the 11th consecutive time. The Rangers won the season series 17-2 from the 108-loss Astros.
The Rangers will take a step up in class to finish the season with four games against the Los Angeles Angels, who are 23-9 since Aug. 23. Tampa Bay has a game Thursday at New York and three this weekend at Toronto, and Cleveland finishes the regular season with four at Minnesota.
The Rays and Indians have each won their past six games.
“We have to find a way to win the games,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “The Angels have a great team, but we’ve swept them before. It’s not impossible.
“We’re competing right now. That’s what baseball is all about. We know that while we’re winning, we have to hope for the other guys to lose. But if we keep winning, we’re going to keep putting pressure on those guys.”
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel carried a no-hitter through three innings but trailed 1-0 as an error, a stolen base, a wild pitch, a walk and a fielder’s choice allowed the Rangers to score the game’s first run.
But Perez (10-5) surrendered a leadoff double to Jose Altuve to open the fourth, and he scored on a one-out single by Chris Carter. Following a strikeout by J.D. Martinez, Brandon Laird hit a towering two-run homer to center field that glanced off Leonys Martin’s glove as he extended above the wall.
The Rangers, however, charged back with five runs in their half, though the rally didn’t start until two were out. Jeff Baker delivered the Rangers’ first hit, a clean single to center, and Keuchel walked Mitch Moreland and hit Craig Gentry to load the bases.
Martin followed with a bases-clearing double that put the Rangers up 4-3, and Kinsler delivered Martin with a single to center.
“I was definitely looking for that pitch,” Martin said. “The last at-bat he struck me out with the same pitch, so I was ready for that pitch, and thank God I didn’t miss it and squared it up.”
The rally gave Perez — and the Rangers — a new lease on life. He allowed only two hits the rest of the way to become the club’s first rookie left-hander to win 10 games, and struck out eight while issuing only one walk.
His next start could come in a potential Game 163 or in the wild-card game. The Rangers know they have to keep winning and get a little help along the way.
“We have to win these games,” Kinsler said. “Everyone knows the position we’re in. It’s no secret here. We have to win games, and we have to have someone else help us.
“There’s nothing we can do right now but win our games.”