The Astros added a tie-breaking run in the ninth inning Sunday on a strange turn of events that involved an Evan Gattis check swing and an astute observation by AJ Hinch, who popped out of the dugout to point out that Rangers reliever Keone Kela did not stop during his delivery between setting up for the pitch and throwing it.
The four umpires got together for a quick discussion and ruled the balk call, allowing Springer to score the go-ahead run from third.
"It's clear as day what happened," Hinch said. "It's a weird play ... caught everybody off-guard, including the umpire crew. It's an illegal pitch with a runner on third. Kela does that all the time with nobody on third. He was so focused on the hitter, he decided to go to a quick pitch, which you can't do. It's a balk. Once the umpires convened, they got the call right."
Was it a call that would have been made had Hinch not pointed it out? According to umpire crew chief Sam Holbrook, it would have -- after there was an interpretation about Kela's intentions.
"When he came and brought the pitch without stopping, we had to get together to make sure he hadn't announced to [home plate umpire Alfonzo Marquez] that he was throwing from the windup position," Holbrook said. "So when Fonzie said 'No, he did not announce that to me,' then he was throwing from the stretch position, and he did not stop, so that was what the balk was called for."
Though no one called the balk as the pitch was being thrown, Holbrook said all four umpires saw the balk. Hinch, however, was the first to verbalize it. This was irksome to Rangers manager Jeff Banister, who argued the ruling and was eventually ejected from the game.
"My concern is that nobody on the field originally called a balk," Banister said. "There was nothing. No umpire called a balk. Their manager came out, and, I guess, was arguing for a balk. The explanation was to me was Keone didn't tell anybody he was going out of the windup. Unfortunate. I've never seen a non-balk call turned over and called a balk.
"My argument was I didn't know we could come out and get the umpires to convene to see what everybody came up with."
Springer, who scored three runs, set up the bizarre ninth by drawing a leadoff walk off Kela and advancing to second on a wild pitch. With one out, the Rangers opted to intentionally walk Altuve. Springer advanced to third on Gurriel's fly ball to center, putting him in position to trot home on the game-winning balk.
The series marks the first time the Astros (42-25) have ever swept a four-game series with the Rangers. Houston's winning streak is now five heading into a three-game series in Oakland that begins Tuesday.
"These are in-division games, halfway through June, and it's a good test for us," Springer said. "A good stretch of division games for us, any time you can take a series from a division opponent is big."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Gurriel's second home run of the season put the Astros ahead, 7-6, in the seventh inning. The homer, hit off Jesse Chavez, traveled 399 feet and left his bat at 101.2 mph, and it was one of four hits Gurriel had in the game, matching his career high. It was Gurriel's first career game with three extra-base hits, as he doubled in the first and fifth innings.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Springer's leadoff homer traveled 423 feet and landed on the grassy berm in straightaway center field. Springer now has 23 leadoff homers for his career. That ranks second on Houston's all-time list, behind Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who had 53 leadoff homers during his 20-year Astros career.
HE SAID IT "I'm not surprised by anything our guys do. It could be Yuli today, Jose [Altuve] tomorrow, it could be [Carlos] Correa the next day. Bregman's done his fair share. Max Stassi ... You look down our order, we have a chance for any one guy to be the hero of the day. We needed a couple of them today." -- Hinch
UP NEXT The Astros will open a three-game road series with the A's on Tuesday at 9:05 p.m CT. Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (7-2, 3.94) will take the mound for the Astros seeking his third win of 2018 over the A's. In two prior outings against Oakland, McCullers has allowed two earned runs over 12 innings, walking four and striking out 10. The A's will counter with right-hander Daniel Mengden (6-5, 3.45).