ARLINGTON -- The Astros are on pace for 101 wins, most of which will be remembered as skillful, clean and well-played. Count Saturday's affair at Globe Life Park with the Rangers as an exception to the rule.
The Astros beat the Rangers, 4-3, and are in line for a possible sweep of the four-game set. But what made this game unusual was the ineffectiveness of their starting pitcher, coupled with the fact that this was still a very low-scoring game.
It's fair to say Charlie Morton had one of the more unusual pitching lines of any starter in the Majors this season. It starts off innocuously enough -- one hit, two runs, one earned run. But Morton also reached career-highs in two categories he'd surely rather not -- he walked six batters and plunked four.
"I got away with not knowing where the ball was going," Morton said. "It was a pretty unprofessional outing, I think, bordering on embarrassing."
But Morton received a lift -- not from the Astros' offense, but from the Rangers, who stranded at least two batters in each of the first six innings and ended the night with 17. Of the 23 batters Morton faced in his 3 2/3 innings, two scored -- Rougned Odor, on Delino DeShields' ground ball in the second, and Robinson Chirinos, who followed Odor to the plate on a Nomar Mazara sacrifice fly.
The only hit Morton allowed was a double to Ronald Guzman, who accounted for three of the 17 stranded baserunners.
"I don't know if they had an inning where they didn't have runners on," manager AJ Hinch said. "It felt like there were runners all over the place for nine straight. We're happy on this side, because we got out of it."
For Morton, Saturday's game represented the second outing in a row during which he's struggled. He yielded six runs to the Red Sox in his prior outing last Sunday, ending a string of six starts in a row in which he allowed three or fewer runs.
Morton said he's identified the problem. Now, it's just a matter of working between starts to fix it.
"Over the course of the past couple of weeks, my delivery has gotten a little out of whack," he said. "My timing has been a little out of whack. Tonight it was just really bad. It has to do with my front side just flying open. That's why you see me pulling a ton of pitches across my body -- fastballs across my body; curveballs across my body."
Morton is just the third pitcher to walk six and hit four batters in a game. If he needs a been-there-done-that pep talk, he won't have to look far -- Steve Sparks, who currently serves as the Astros radio analyst, had a similar game for the Angels on May 22, 1999. The other pitcher to walk six and hit four was Tommy Byrne, who did it while pitching for the Yankees on July 5, 1950.
Following Morton's exit, it was up to the Astros' bullpen to absorb the final 5 1/3 innings. Tony Sipp, who struck out three in one inning, earned the win. He was the pitcher of record when George Springer drove in the tiebreaker with a base hit off Jose Leclerc in the seventh.
Lost in the bizarre nature of this game was Mike Minor's solid start for the Rangers. He opened the game by walking Springer and allowed run-scoring hits by Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, but he settled in to yield just one baserunner for the next three innings. Max Stassi's homer in the fifth accounted for Minor's final run allowed.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Stassi has earned more playing time with his success against left-handed pitching, and he rewarded his manager again in this game against the Rangers with his solo homer off Minor. Stassi is batting .378 (17-for-45) against lefties this season. He has six home runs on the year.
"I felt like I always had that kind of power, it just never would show up routinely, because my swing -- I didn't make enough contact for it to actually show up," he said. "Finally now, I like where my swing's at and I have a chance to do that, show the power that I have."
The Astros are the first team on record to ever walk 10 and hit five batters in a single game.
HE SAID IT
"You guys know how I feel about the closer distinction in general. [Rondon's] pretty hot. He's pitching very well. Kenny's had a hard time having clean innings. I wanted to give him a little bit of a breather. The ebb and flow of the season's always going to have a number of guys -- we might set a record on how many guys close out games for us, at least an Astros record." -- Hinch, on if Hector Rondon takes over as closer, or if Ken Giles is still the first option
The Astros will conclude their four-game set with the Rangers on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. CT. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (3-8, 4.13 ERA) will look to get back into the win column after taking the loss in his most recent outing Tuesday vs. the Mariners. Keuchel has faced the Rangers twice this year, posting a cumulative 2.08 ERA (3 ER/13 IP) with two walks and 12 strikeouts. The Rangers will counter with lefty Matt Moore (1-5, 7.47).