ARLINGTON -- Yu Darvish has flirted with perfection against the Astros, coming one out shy of a perfect game three years ago, but on Sunday they were determined not to let the Rangers' starter get comfortable.
Manager A.J. Hinch said before Houston's 7-6 victory that Darvish is throwing more fastballs than usual this season, especially since returning from injury for the second time. The Astros' strategy was to make sure they didn't miss their opportunities when he did throw one straight, fast and out over the plate.
Sure enough, after taking two fastballs on the corners to start the game, Astros leadoff hitter George Springer got what he was looking for. Darvish's next pitch, a more centrally-located fastball, landed in the visitors' bullpen after Springer crushed it 423 feet.
Houston forced Darvish to throw 33 pitches in a two-run first inning, and the Astros got to him again in the fourth, when Colby Rasmus singled, Tyler White walked, Jake Marisnick doubled home Rasmus. Springer then singled in White and Alex Bregman drove Marisnick in with a grounder.
"Darvish threw more breaking balls the next time around just because we were hunting the fastballs -- it was a cat-and-mouse game, a little bit," Hinch said. "We had him at 60-plus pitches through three innings. We made him work, we made him throw strikes, we drew a couple of walks, got a couple of big hits. We put together a really good game plan."
Darvish allowed five earned runs in four innings, surrendering seven hits and walking three. He left after only 80 pitches.
"His command was not where it had been previously and he was challenged with landing the offspeed for strikes," Rangers manager Jeff Banister. "He worked from behind hitters and really got it in the soft contact zones. He looked a little out of rhythm in my opinion, very uncharacteristic."
The Astros know all too well how tough Darvish can be when he is in rhythm. In 11 prior starts against Houston, Darvish held the Astros to a .190 batting average, the second-lowest total of any American League team he's faced. The last time the Astros saw Darvish, in Houston on Aug. 7, he tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out eight.
So the Astros said they came in with a different mindset Sunday, and it paid off.
"The game plan today was executed," said second baseman Bregman, who had a career-high three hits, including one off Darvish in the first. "We put together quality at-bats up and down the lineup."
Springer's blast was his seventh leadoff homer of the season, second in the Majors, but more important, it gave Houston a lead it never relinquished and moved the Astros two games back of the AL's second Wild Card.
"We have some power at the top, and that is something that jolts our offense," Hinch said. "There's a ton of energy in our dugout when we do something positive in the first inning."