Houston’s bats had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout Sunday afternoon. They’d certainly had their opportunities, but through seven innings, the Majors' best offense had been held in check.
But a sleeping giant can only remain in slumber for so long.
The Astros’ bats awoke when it mattered most, putting up four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat the Rangers, 6-2, at Minute Maid Park and extend their season-best winning streak to six games.
“Fans were rocking tonight,” said Chas McCormick. “It was a great day game, great battle.”
Yuli Gurriel, who was held to a rare hitless game, knocked in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly, but it was the 26-year-old rookie who sent Minute Maid Park into a real frenzy.
McCormick, who started just his eighth game of the season, lined a bases-loaded single into left field, scoring two runs and providing Houston with much-needed insurance. Third baseman Alex Bregman barely got his foot in safely at home plate, a play that was confirmed by replay review.
“That’s his job,” manager Dusty Baker said of McCormick. “Like I’ve said before, you can’t win without a quality and capable bench. Between he and [Jason] Castro and [Aledmys] Díaz, they’re doing an outstanding job.”
Houston had opportunities to put a crooked number in the first and fifth innings, but only settled for one run in each frame. It comes as no surprise that it was Kyle Gibson who was responsible for stifling those rallies.
Gibson dominated the Astros last season, pitching 15 total scoreless innings across two starts. He wasn’t quite as untouchable on Sunday, but managed to escape any trouble Houston presented.
“He has quality stuff,” Baker said. “He keeps the ball down. He mixes it up. Good sinker that runs in on you. Four-seamer that runs away on you, then he has a very good changeup and slider.”
“He has good pitches. He’s got a heavy two-seam with a nice cutter and slider. That’s what he does,” said second baseman Jose Altuve. “He pitched really good today, and it was big for us to get [him] out of the game.”
The Astros had quite the formidable starter to match in Lance McCullers Jr., who overcame shaky control and hard contact to pitch six shutout innings with five strikeouts.
From the jump, McCullers didn’t have his best stuff on the mound. That’s best reflected in his final strike-to-ball ratio, throwing 55 strikes to 40 balls. Even without the crispest command, McCullers made pitches when he needed to, inducing a pair of early double plays that helped keep his pitch count low.
McCullers’ best piece of situational pitching came at the end of his afternoon. Nick Solak led off the sixth inning with a double down the left-field line and subsequently advanced to third base on McCullers’ wild pitch. With a runner on third, no outs and the heart of the order coming up, the Rangers had a golden opportunity.
McCullers didn’t budge.
The right-hander struck out Nate Lowe on a curveball in the dirt, got Joey Gallo to pop out and Adolis García to fly out, ending the threat and, by extension, his afternoon.
“When you’re at your best, those are the easy days. You should dominate those games,” McCullers said. “What do you do in games when you don’t have your best stuff? What do you do in games where you don’t have your best command? How do you manage the game when you’re in tough spots and the game’s still close. Those types of things are what I accomplished today.”
These quality outings have become the norm for McCullers as of late. Since getting roughed up for six runs on April 14, McCullers has pitched marvelously. In his last five starts, McCullers has allowed just six runs across 33 innings (1.64 ERA) with 36 strikeouts.
Following their second sweep of the season, the Astros head West for their most consequential series yet, a three-game affair with the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum, beginning Tuesday. With Oakland’s 7-6 win on Sunday, Bob Melvin’s bunch maintains a half-game lead over Houston. The playoffs are quite aways away, but when the A’s and Astros meet, there’s always potential for sparks.
“We’re gonna savor this one, then get ready for the road,” Baker said.