Andrus, Rios help Rangers overtake Astros, regain first

Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios shared center stage Saturday night.

Andrus surprised just about everyone in the ballpark by connecting on his first homer of the season, a two-out, two-run, game-tying shot in the seventh inning.

An inning later, Rios tripled home the game-tying run and then scored the go-ahead run in his Texas debut as the Rangers rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Rangers are on a season-long six-game winning streak, have won 11 of their last 12 and sit alone atop the American League West after the A’s fell to the Blue Jays.

“It’s been a fun run,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “We played so bad for a while there, it was tough. …But it’s basically come down to just having more fun.”

Andrus got it started in the seventh inning. The Rangers were trailing 3-1 at the time. Derek Holland didn’t have his best night, and Astros right-hander Brad Peacock allowed only a solo homer run to Pierzynski through the first six innings.

But the Rangers were thankful to see the shaky Astros bullpen once again.

With one on and two out in the seventh, Andrus felt that Astros reliever Kevin Chapman would throw a slider. He was right and sent it into the short porch in left field known as the Crawford Boxes.

It was a relief for Andrus to get his first homer of the year, evident by his bat flip afterward.

“I don’t hit too many, so I have to enjoy it,” Andrus said. “I don’t know when I’m going to hit my next one. I wasn’t trying to disrespect anybody, but it was more of myself being like, ‘I finally hit the ball [after three strikeouts].’”

Said manager Ron Washington: “One of the biggest hits we’ve had all year. I don’t think anyone in the ballpark expected that.”

Ian Kinsler might disagree with the skipper on that. Kinsler, standing in the on-deck circle, said he called the shot after talking with hitting coach Dave Magadan about how the park set up nicely for Andrus to homer for the first time in 558 at-bats.

“I said, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen right here,’” Kinsler said. “Magadan said, ‘That’d be a big one.’ And it was.”

But the Astros regained the lead in the home half of the seventh. Brandon Barnes led off with a single to center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and stole third. He then scored on a wild pitch by Jason Frasor.

That lead didn’t last long, though. Pierzynski had a one-out double off the left-center-field fence, and then pinch-runner Engel Beltre raced home on a triple by Rios that scooted past a diving Barnes in center.

In the next at-bat, even with the Astros’ infield in, Rios was running on contact. Mitch Moreland chopped a grounder to second baseman Jose Altuve, who threw home well before Rios got there.

But Rios made enough contact with Jason Castro and was able to dislodge the ball from Castro’s mitt at the plate.

“I was just trying to get there, get to home plate as quick as I could,” Rios said. “And I had a good chance to get to his mitt and knock the ball out, so it worked perfectly.”

Rios finished his night 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored. It was an impressive debut, something that he hopes will carry forward down the stretch.

“It was big,” Rios said. “It gives me a little bit of confidence and a little bit of motivation because I believe everybody in this clubhouse wants to win.”

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