Oh, how a couple of wins can change the mood of a baseball team.
For the first time this season, the Texas Rangers won consecutive games, beating the first-place Houston Astros 7-1 Tuesday night behind a dominating performance by pitcher Wandy Rodriguez at Minute Maid Park.
The Tejano music was playing in the Rangers’ clubhouse after the game but Cinco de Mayo wasn’t the only reason.
Texas’ offense was also a good reason to celebrate. The Rangers banged out 11 hits, including six in the first inning when they jumped on Scott Feldman for four runs. They added two more runs in the third, and Kyle Blanks’ solo homer, his third in just his sixth game with the Rangers, stretched the lead to 7-1 in the fifth.
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That was more than enough for Rodriguez, who pitched for the Astros for eight years. He shut down his former team after allowing a solo homer to Luis Valbuena in the first.
Rodriguez retired 19 consecutive batters between the second and seventh innings. The stretch began when he forced Jose Altuve, one of the top hitters in the league, to tap gently back to the mound with the bases loaded to end the second. He forced seven fly or pop-outs and struck out six in the stretch. He finished with eight strikeouts and one walk. It’s the first time Rodriguez has gone eight inning since he did it in back-to-back starts for the Astros in May 2012.
“It’s very important to win this game today because it’s been a long time and last year I missed a couple months,” Rodriguez said. “It’s my first win so I feel really really happy.”
It’s the first time the Rangers (10-16) have won consecutive games this season. To do it against the Astros, who entered the series winners of 10 in a row, says a lot about the makeup of the team, Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
“It speaks to the grit that these guys have. It’s a belief system that they have in each other,” he said. “They’re not going to look at this as the hottest team in baseball. It’s a night to play and they’re going to show up and play whoever is in front of them. It’s cliché, but it’s one game at a time. It just happens to be who we’re playing right now.”
Feldman, a former Ranger, left after allowing six runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings.
Rodriguez did the rest. His stretch of 19 consecutive batters retired was the most by a Rangers pitcher in a game since Yu Darvish retired 20 consecutive Red Sox on May 9 last year.
“Locating all my pitches. Having good luck with my changeup and my curveball and locating my fastball, very good work tonight,” Rodriguez said. “That’s really the reason I was able to get a lot of hitters out.”
And the offense, which collected five extra-base hits, including three doubles and two homers, is finally starting to break out of its season-long slump. Blanks finished with three hits and two RBIs.
“This is the type of hitters these guys are,” Banister said. “They can explode on you in a hurry.”
Said Elvis Andrus, who had two hits and two runs scored: “We knew that sooner or later the hits to make the team relax were coming. We were creating a lot of opportunities, we just weren’t able to get the hits.
“So I think especially yesterday, beating their best guy, I think it helped to get back to the ABCs, you know, just do the little things, and when you do the little things everything else will come together.”