HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus snapped an 0-for-29 slump at an opportune time.Rasmus, whose seven-game hitless streak tied his career high, cranked a two-run home run in the third inning Wednesday night off Masahiro Tanaka to back a strong start from Lance McCullers Jr. Jr. and send the Astros
HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus snapped an 0-for-29 slump at an opportune time.
Rasmus, whose seven-game hitless streak tied his career high, cranked a two-run home run in the third inning Wednesday night off Masahiro Tanaka to back a strong start from Lance McCullers Jr. Jr. and send the Astros to a 4-1 win over the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.
"Any time you get a hit or a home run or whatever,just to help the boys is great," Rasmus said. "Especially as much as I've been letting us down, to be able to do that against the Yankees in a game we needed to win, since they beat us the first two, I'm thankful and happy to do it."
McCullers (6-4) allowed one run -- on a leadoff homer by Yankees catcher Brian McCann in the fourth -- and five hits and struck out 10 batters in six innings, marking his second consecutive 10-strikeout game and fourth this season.
"Coming into tonight, you want to salvage the series at least and go 4-2 on the homestand," McCullers said. "That's a solid homestand for us. Coming into the game, I just want to go out there, give it my best effort. I knew Tanaka was going to be tough. We put some runs up, guys with big hits there. We're coming up on a tough part of the schedule, but we're playing good baseball and I feel like the guys are ready to go."
An RBI single by Carlos Gómez -- who later exited with a strained right hamstring -- put the Astros ahead 1-0, and Rasmus' 12th homer capped a three-run third and put Houston up, 4-0. The Yankees had won seven consecutive games started by Tanaka, who gave up four runs and and seven hits in five innings to suffer his first loss since June 11.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Colby Jack's back: Rasmus walloped his first homer since July 2 when he turned on a 2-1 pitch from Tanaka and put it in the right-field seats to give the Astros a 4-0 lead in the third. He entered the game in a 1-for-35 funk since July 2, including 29 hitless at-bats between homers, as he battles ear infections.
"He did come at a good time for us, and he's one swing away throughout all this," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's really struggled to find hits over the last 40 at-bats or so. I know he's worked pretty hard to find his slot, to make sure he tries to stay positive, and boy did he come up big today, for sure."
Road warrior's woes: Tanaka has been lights-out on the road for most of the season, carrying a 4-1 record and Major League-leading 1.50 road ERA into Wednesday, but the right-hander couldn't put anything together for the second straight road start. After allowing seven runs (three earned) to Cleveland in an 11-7 Yankees win on July 10, Tanaka had similar trouble against the Astros.
"We came in with a good stretch winning a couple of games in a row," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I wanted to go out there and obviously beat the opponent, but that didn't happen. Very disappointed about that."
Mc-K-ullers whiffs 10: McCullers had his best fastball working and needed only five innings to notch his 10 strikeouts, including striking out five consecutive batters (last two outs in fourth and all three outs in the fifth). He has 100 strikeouts in 76 ⅓ innings this year and ranks second in the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings. He has six games with at least 10 strikeouts in his first 35 career starts.
"The fastball command has gotten better," Hinch said. "He's learning when to use it. I think the least aggressive players in the league, one of them being Brett Gardner, are swinging at the first-pitch fastball, trying to stay away from the breaking ball. That should tell the word's out that he's going to throw 40-50 percent breaking balls. Still hard to hit, so the well-placed fastball is going to be a huge part of his game plan moving forward."
Can't bounce back: The Yankees trailed, 1-0, in each game this series, but Wednesday night was the first time they didn't bounce back. While McCann's solo shot did keep the Bronx Bombers from getting shut out, it wasn't enough to spark the offense, which was already down four runs at that point and totaled 15 strikeouts and five hits on the night.
"I thought our bats were pretty good often," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "but [McCullers'] stuff was that good."
"He's got one of the better curveballs you're gonna see, and, out of 90 pitches, it seemed like he threw 89 of them." -- McCann, on McCullers.
Yankees: New York continues its eight-game, nine-day road trip Friday night at 7:10 p.m. ET as the Yankees start a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Right-hander Ivan Nova (7-5, 4.65 ERA) will get the start for New York.
Astros: The Astros will take Thursday off before opening a three-game series in Detroit on Friday by sending right-hander Collin McHugh to the mound against the Tigers for a 6:08 p.m. CT start at Comerica Park. McHugh has a 2.49 ERA in his last seven starts, during which the Astros have gone 6-1.
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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston and covered the Yankees on Wednesday.