Rangers' new AL West rival delivers opening blow
Harrison ties career high with nine strikeouts but allows six runs in loss
HOUSTON -- Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus went through something he has never experienced before as a Major League player. His team lost on Opening Day.
"Not good," Andrus said. "It's a different feeling that's for sure. It's just one game in a long season."
Maybe, but the Rangers had a four-game Opening Day winning streak come to an end with an 8-2 loss to the Astros on Sunday night at Minute Maid Park in the opening game of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Matt Harrison took the loss, allowing six runs (five earned) in 5 2/3 innings despite tying a career high with nine strikeouts. The big blow was a three-run home run in the sixth inning by pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel against Rangers reliever Derek Lowe. Astros starter Bud Norris pitched 5 2/3 innings to get the victory for new manager Bo Porter, who was the Rangers' Opening Day center fielder back in 2001.
It was the Astros' debut as an American League team.
"We did a few uncharacteristic things tonight, but we didn't beat ourselves ... they beat us," outfielder David Murphy said.
The Rangers' four-game winning streak on Opening Day all came at the Ballpark in Arlington. They have lost five straight times on Opening Day when playing on the road.
"One game, what can you do?" catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "They played very well, give them credit. They were excited, home opener, national television, first game for the new manager, they wanted to win for him. It just didn't work out for us."
Harrison can at least say he did something that Nolan Ryan once did as a pitcher. Harrison is the fourth pitcher in the last 25 years to strike out at least nine batters on Opening Day and still take a loss. The other three were Ryan for the Rangers in 1991, Mike Mussina for the Orioles in 1998 and Roy Halladay for the Blue Jays in 2004.
"It was the opener, not the last game of the season," Harrison said. "You're not going to win or lose the division on the first game of the season, but it would have been nice to win the game."
Harrison looked sharp for three innings, allowing one hit and striking out five. He also retired Jose Altuve on a fly to center to start the fourth. Then Brett Wallace smacked a single up the middle and, after Chris Carter struck out, Carlos Pena bounced a hit through the left side. That put runners on first and second with two outs.
Justin Maxwell followed with a high fly ball that sent Murphy all the way back to the wall in left. Murphy tried to make a leaping catch, but the ball bounced off the top of the scoreboard attached to the wall. Murphy lost track of the carom, and by the time center fielder Leonys Martin tracked it down, Maxwell was heading for third with a two-run triple.
"That's a fly ball in most parks but we're not playing in most parks," Murphy said. "We're playing in Minute Maid. It was great hitting, the guy took advantage of the ballpark."
Harrison got out of that inning by getting Jason Castro on a grounder to first but ran into more trouble in the fifth after a one-out walk to Brandon Barnes. Ronny Cedeno, hitting at the bottom of the Astros' order, followed with a line-drive single to right, and Nelson Cruz fumbled the ball for an error. That allowed Castro to score and Cedeno went all the way to third.
"No excuses, I'm supposed to catch that ball," Cruz said. "It gave me a funny bounce, not the way I expected, but there are no excuses."
Cedeno scored on a single by Altuve to give the Astros a 4-0 lead. The Rangers got two back in the top of the sixth on a pair of two-out run-scoring singles by Murphy and Cruz. But left-hander Erik Bedard -- the Astros' fifth starter on temporary duty as a reliever - retired Pierzynski on a fly to center to end the inning.
Walks brought Harrison's night to an end. He walked Maxwell with one out and Matt Dominguez with two outs in the sixth, and manager Ron Washington brought in Lowe, a right-hander, to face Barnes.
"I put myself in a bad situation there," Harrison said. "The first walk to Maxwell didn't bother me, but you've got to be aggressive and make the swing the bat with two outs."
Porter countered with a left-handed bat off the bench and Ankiel hit a full-count pitch over the right-field wall for a three-run home run that broke the game open.
"You look at the early innings, I thought Harrison was in complete control," Washington said. "But they're an aggressive team and they played a pretty good game. They had eight and we had two. They shut us down."
That just hasn't happened in a while on Opening Day.