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West gets tighter as Astros fall late to D-backs

Division lead cut to 2 1/2 in club's 2nd loss in 12 games this month
September 15, 2018

HOUSTON -- The Astros opened their final homestand of the season on Friday night at Minute Maid Park with a disappointing 4-2 defeat to the D-backs. Two late runs off Hector Rondon proved to be the difference, giving Houston only its second loss in 12 September games.More importantly for the

HOUSTON -- The Astros opened their final homestand of the season on Friday night at Minute Maid Park with a disappointing 4-2 defeat to the D-backs. Two late runs off Hector Rondon proved to be the difference, giving Houston only its second loss in 12 September games.
More importantly for the Astros, their lead in the American League West was reduced to 2 1/2 games over the A's, who recorded a 2-1, 10-inning win against the Rays in St. Petersburg.
The D-backs broke a tie game with a pair of two-out runs in the eighth. Jonathan Jay's broken-bat triple scored Nick Ahmed, who had doubled, and Jay scored on a bloop single by A.J. Pollock. Jay's triple was not hit sharply, landing roughly 20 feet past the infield dirt and down the right-field line, but right fielder Josh Reddick was positioned closer to center field and had a long run to chase down the ball.

"A tough one to swallow," Astros manager AJ Hinch said in describing the eighth-inning events. "We pitched out of trouble early, and just couldn't escape bad luck where [Jay] hit the ball twice with a broken bat. It looked like it was going foul, hits back fair, and then the Pollock bloop hit.
"It was frustrating, because we didn't do a ton between the first inning and the [seventh] inning, offensively."
Houston scored two in the first inning on Yuli Gurriel's bases-loaded single and a double-play grounder by Carlos Correa. But the Astros were then held hitless until Tyler White led off the seventh with a double. They were outhit, 10-5.

In gaining a no-decision, Dallas Keuchel settled down after a two-run, 30-pitch first inning, allowing two runs and five hits over six innings. He struck out his final batter, Jeff Mathis, on a 79.9-mph changeup. The left-hander has made every turn in the rotation this season in making 31 starts.
"I was making pitches left and right and making the defense play," Keuchel said. "We got a couple of bad breaks in the eighth."

Arizona starter Robbie Ray also found his rhythm in his 5 1/3 innings, not allowing a hit after the first, during which he was touched for two runs and two hits.
"Ray showed flashes of his good stuff," Hinch said. "And when we did get good opportunities, we had small margin of error."
Ray has allowed three runs or fewer in 12 consecutive road starts, dating back to last season. Brad Ziegler (2-6) got the win. 
With a first-inning walk, Alex Bregman has reached base safely in 40 straight games.
The Astros were turned away on two occasions by Ziegler. After White's leadoff double in the seventh, Ziegler replaced Archie Bradley with runners at the corners and two outs. Reddick, who had walked, then stole second before Ziegler struck out George Springer looking on a curveball.

In the following inning, Gurriel walked and Correa singled with two outs before Ziegler again came up with a big out, this time inducing pinch-hitter Evan Gattis to ground into a forceout.

Springer sustained a shoulder injury while making a diving attempt on Pollock's RBI single in the eighth inning, and he was removed after the frame. Hinch said the center fielder is listed as day to day and could be back in Saturday's lineup. More >

During Bregman's 40-game on-base streak, the third baseman is hitting .338 (51-for-151) with eight home runs, 17 doubles and 29 RBIs.
Keuchel was in on the action on a couple of sharply hit comebackers. The left-hander avoided serious injury when Pollock's single in the second inning deflected off the back of his left shoulder at an exit velocity of 98.4 mph. After a visit from club trainers, Keuchel shook off the blow and retired the next batter, Eduardo Escobar, on a groundout to end the inning.

In the fifth, Keuchel displayed why he's a three-time Gold Glove Award winner. The lefty snared a screamer from slugger Paul Goldschmidt, hit at an exit velocity of 102.4 mph near his head, and easily threw him out at first base.

"With our strange shifts, sometimes we look up and expect a guy there and they're half a mile away from the ball. It's going to happen sometimes." -- Keuchel, on the positioning of Reddick on Jay's triple
D-backs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. made a long run for an outstanding diving catch to his left on a ball hit by Bregman in the eighth that may have thwarted a potential Houston rally. Statcast™ determined Souza's catch to be four stars, with a catch probability of 27 percent, as Souza had to run 48 feet in 3.3 seconds to get to the ball. The Astros challenged that the ball was not caught, but after a replay of 1 minute, 25 seconds, the play stood for the second out.

Closing in on becoming the third Houston pitcher to surpass 200 strikeouts this season, right-hander Charlie Morton will start the middle game of the three-game series vs. the D-backs at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Morton is 2-0 over his last three starts, with wins at Seattle and Boston, but he has not pitched past the fifth in any of the last three games. Arizona will counter with righty Zack Godley.

Richard Dean is a contributor to based in Houston.