HOUSTON -- Right-hander Lance Lynn missed with only a couple of pitches. Middle of the plate here. Little bit up there. Against most teams, this isn’t going to be the difference between winning and losing.
The Astros reminded the Rangers that they’re not most teams as they bunched together three solo home runs in the fifth and sixth inning of a 4-1 loss on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Lynn hadn’t allowed a baserunner to reach scoring position when Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel broke up a scoreless game with a one-out home run in the fifth inning. An inning later, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez went back-to-back with two out for a 3-0 lead.
“They’ve got a really deep lineup,” Lynn said, “and I made three mistakes, and all three of those left the yard. That’s going to happen, especially when you’ve got a team that good that’s got a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs.”
The Astros scored another run in the seventh when a Robinson Chirinos pop fly fell into left field for a triple, and he raced home on a George Springer infield hit. That was plenty for Houston on a night when Justin Verlander pitched six scoreless innings, and three relievers finished up to drop the Rangers to 0-8 at Houston this season.
“We needed [Verlander] to make a mistake,” manager Chris Woodward said, “and he didn’t. If he did, it was minimal. That’s what he does. He gets better. He always has a little bit extra. Justin can just reach back and grab a lightning bolt when he needs it.”
Lynn, who went seven innings and logged eight strikeouts, was plenty good enough to win, and this is what the Rangers have come to expect from him. At 32, he has seldom been better than he is right now. He came at the Astros with heat. His fastball routinely touched 96 mph. In the many silver linings of this season, Lynn is one of the biggest as he closes in on his first 200-inning season since 2014. He has already achieved 200 strikeouts -- 224 and counting -- for the first time in his career.
Lots has happened since 2014, including Tommy John surgery that sidelined Lynn the entire 2016 season. He’s all the way back from that and possibly better than ever.
"When you show up to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, it’s 200 innings, 200 strikeouts,” Lynn said. “That’s grown man stuff. That’s what it means.”
With lefty Mike Minor also approaching the 200-inning threshold -- he’s at 194 2/3 -- the Rangers can look forward to 2020 with a pair of foundation pieces for their rotation.
“We’re very fortunate to have both those guys because not everybody [does],” Woodward said. “It’s huge for us. If we add one more piece, now the other two can be filled with the guys we have currently or we can go out and sign one more guy who has got some track record.
“Now you’re looking at one spot to fill with some pretty good young arms that you can maybe rotate in and out or take the one that’s throwing the best at the time. Now you have a ton of depth.”
Lynn has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 23 of his 31 starts and he’s gone at least six innings 24 times.
Throwback? He has allowed two earned runs or fewer 18 times and he’s gone at least seven innings 14 times.
“For him to prove to the league that he’s almost getting better with age, he takes a lot of pride in that,” Woodward said. “It’s been remarkable what he’s done. He didn’t get off to the best of starts, but from there, he has dominated.”
But the Rangers still have some work to do, and nights like Tuesday remind them of that.
“When all is said and done, you’re trying to win games,” Lynn said “All that stuff [about 200 innings and 200 strikeouts] is cool, but we’ve still got to win games.”