The Silver Boot was lost on Sunday afternoon. And the deciding run couldn't have come in a more 2018 way for the Texas Rangers.
The Houston Astros, with their 8-7 win at Globe Life Park, completed their first four-game sweep of the Rangers and improved to 10-4 against their Lone Star rivals, clinching the season series despite five games remaining.
With the game tied with two outs in the ninth, Rangers' closer Keone Kela was called for a balk that allowed the go-ahead run to score from third. Replays showed that Kela appeared to indeed quick-pitch to Evan Gattis with George Springer at third base.
But after the 1-2 pitch to Gattis was called a ball, no balk call was made by any of the four umpires on the field. Instead, Astros manager A.J. Hinch alertly and immediately approached home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez about Kela's quick pitch, which is the same as a balk if a runner is on third. The umpires conferred and ruled it a balk, allowing the run to score.
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Rangers manager Jeff Banister reacted as you'd expect and was quickly ejected. Crew chief Sam Holbrook said the umpires were already going to discuss whether Kela had announced he intended on throwing from the stretch position before Hinch requested the confab.
"We had to get together to make sure that [Kela] hadn't announced to Fonzie [Marquez] that he was throwing from the windup position," Holbrook said. Kela didn't tell Marquez anything, Holbrook said.
"And he did not stop, so that was what the balk was called for," Holbrook said. "[Hinch] came out because he had the same questions that we did. All four of us [saw the balk]."
Said Hinch: "It's clear as day what happened. It's a weird play … it caught everybody off-guard, including the umpire crew. It's an illegal pitch with a runner on third. Kela does that all the time with nobody on third. He was so focused on the hitter, he decided to go to a quick pitch, which you can't do. It's a balk. Once the umpires convened, they got the call right."
The outcome between the teams comes as no surprise, of course, with the Astros coming off their first World Series title and the Rangers in the midst of a transition year into what should become a full-on rebuild mode.
The swiftness by which the Astros dismissed the Rangers in '18, however, is a little more eye-raising.
For the second consecutive day, the Rangers had their chances against a struggling Astros starter. Dallas Keuchel wasn't fooling many and was done after allowing six runs (five earned) on 13 hits in only 4 1/3 innings. On Saturday night, Charlie Morton was gone after 3 2/3 innings.
The 13 hits allowed by Keuchel ties a career high. The 13 hits against one pitcher are the most for the Rangers since they did it April 21, 2016, against Keuchel. But 12 of the hits against Keuchel on Sunday were singles.
The Rangers rallied from a 6-0 hole to tie it at 6-6 in the fifth inning and then rallied again to tie it at 7-7 in the eighth on Adrian Beltre's third hit of the game, which scored Nomar Mazara. But that just set up the Astros' rally in the ninth, when Kela walked Springer to start the inning and then put him on second with a wild pitch and no outs. Springer moved to third on Yuli Gurriel's flyout to center.
"The explanation to me was Keone didn't tell anybody he was going out of the windup," Banister said. "I've never seen a non-balk call turned over and called a balk … my argument was I didn’t know we could come out and get the umpires to convene to see what everybody came up with."
Kela, who took the loss, also took the balk call in stride. He thought he came to enough of a stop before the pitch.
"I guess under the umpire’s discretion it was a little too quick so it was called a balk and the runner got to advance," he said. "It's frustrating but at the end of the day there are certain rules that are laid down in this game and I have to abide by them."