ARLINGTON -- Gerrit Cole entered Friday leading the league in strikeouts. Astros teammate Justin Verlander has done it four times. And the Rangers, whose hitters are on pace to strike out more than any team in Major League history, had the misfortune of facing both pitchers on consecutive nights.You can
ARLINGTON -- Gerrit Cole entered Friday leading the league in strikeouts. Astros teammate Justin Verlander has done it four times. And the Rangers, whose hitters are on pace to strike out more than any team in Major League history, had the misfortune of facing both pitchers on consecutive nights.
You can probably guess how that turned out.
Once again, in a 7-3 loss, the Rangers were outfoxed by an elite Astros starting pitcher at Globe Life Park. This time, Verlander struck out nine, a night after Cole fanned eight and yielded just one run, as Houston took the first two in this four-game set.
Verlander allowed a leadoff homer on his first pitch of the night, then he struck out five in a row. The Rangers managed to get to Verlander in the third, collecting a leadoff double by Delino DeShields, a walk by Shin-Soo Choo and a two-run double by Nomar Mazara.
That was all they could muster against Verlander.
"You can just watch him -- he's 96 [mph] and 87 with four different pitches," Joey Gallo said. "He throws them whenever he wants. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's always a tough at-bat. Every at-bat, he always competes. He never gives in. If you're in an advantage count, it doesn't mean you're going to get a cookie down the middle, like some guys will. You're always grinding, no matter what. That's how their whole team is. They're a tough team to face. We've faced them quite a bit, unfortunately."
Including Adrian Beltre's difficult four-strikeout night, the Rangers whiffed a total of 13 times on Friday, putting them at an MLB-most 638 for the season. Strikeouts are up across the board in the Majors, but the Rangers' strikeouts per game sits at a grisly 9.67, the highest in the American League. At that pace, they'd strike out 1,566 times and easily break the Astros' Major League record of 1,535 in 2013.
That said, Verlander has 2,529 career strikeouts, so it's not like the Rangers were whiffing against a run-of-the-mill pitcher.
"We made their guy work. … But big-time pitchers still make big-time pitches and that's what he does," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "We had a couple of run-scoring opportunities and he made some pitches. We got a couple runs off of him and that's about where it ended. But I was pleased with where our guys continued to battle and grind through those at-bats against a very challenging pitcher."
Verlander's 1.24 ERA actually went up, to a paltry 1.45 after the outing -- but that's still good enough to lead the American League by half a run.
Rangers starter Doug Fister allowed five earned runs in five innings before leaving the game with a right knee injury one pitch into the sixth.
Fister allowed four manufactured runs in the second inning, on a single, walk, two singles and George Springer's two-run double. Fister also surrendered a home run to Alex Bregman in the fifth.
"I made some mistakes that they obviously hit, left a couple balls over the middle, but overall I felt really good," Fister said. "Certain ones stand out -- I was trying to keep the ball on Bregman, down and away, and he took that to center field. Certain things like that. The big inning of four runs was a bunch of pressure situations and I put them in good hitters' counts, and kind of let my team down on that."
Choo's leadoff home run off Verlander was the 24th of his career. He is second in club history behind Ian Kinsler (29). It was the Rangers' first since DeShields hit one against the Mariners on August 2, 2017. The home run also marked the 24th straight game that Choo has reached base safely, which is the longest active streak in the Majors. Choo later singled and walked as the only Rangers hitter to reach base three times against Verlander on the night.
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Gallo almost always faces a heavily shifted defense, especially against the Astros, who pioneered some of the modern shifting tactics. Still, it's exceedingly rare for Gallo to actually bunt for a hit to the unoccupied left side -- a feat he accomplished to perfection in the sixth inning. Banister called it "a beautiful bunt." Gallo's only other bunt hit against the shift this year was against the A's on April 25. Choo also took advantage of the shift with a bunt single in the fifth.
"I just went out there and saw them move over and felt like [Verlander's] such a good pitcher that I have to try something, maybe get a rally going," Gallo said. "I happened to lay a pretty perfect bunt down, but obviously the situation dictates it. If you're down 10 runs, you're not bunting. You're trying to get something going, or the offense starts getting a little stagnant. We were one swing away from taking a lead, so I achieved what I wanted to."
Rangers left-hander Mike Minor (4-4, 5.76 ERA) will make his third start against the Astros this season at 6:15 p.m. CT on Saturday at Globe Life Park. Minor last faced Houston on April 14, when he allowed five runs on five hits in a no-decision. In his last start on May 31, he allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits in a loss to the Mariners. Saturday's game will be nationally televised on FOX. Righty Charlie Morton (7-1, 2.84 ERA) will start for the Astros.
Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com based in Texas.