Slam snaps Martín Pérez's 19-start run without a loss

Rangers' ace labors in pivotal 4th inning against Astros, suffers his first defeat since April 17

August 10th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Martín Pérez had turned the Rangers' fortunes around in his previous start against the Astros at Minute Maid Park with a shutout performance that gave Texas its first win in Houston in two seasons.

But the left-hander’s mid-game struggles in Tuesday night’s series opener is what led to the Rangers' 7-5 loss, which snapped his stretch of 19 straight starts without a loss -- tying Cole Hamels' franchise record (2015-16).

There is no doubt Minute Maid Park has been a House of Horrors for the Rangers as they have lost 25 of their past 28 games here and have been outscored, 142-68, dating to 2019. Texas dropped three of four in its previous trip here in May, but the Rangers were able to win that one due to Pérez’s third career shutout.

Pérez's previous success against the Astros this season -- he allowed just one run in the previous 16 innings against them -- paired with the recent stretch in which he went 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his previous 19 starts made it seem that the Rangers were set up for success on Tuesday.

Instead, the Astros handed the starter his first loss since April 17 as Pérez yielded seven runs on six hits and three walks to go with two strikeouts in five innings of work.

“I was throwing good pitches,” Pérez said. “ They are a good team and didn’t swing at some pitches I was throwing. They made me pay.”

Pérez first time through the lineup resembled the starter that had enjoyed lots of success of late -- a 1.44 ERA and a .169 opponents’ batting average over his previous four starts -- as he retired the first nine batters he faced. He seemed comfortable with the ability to create a plan that he was able to execute, at least early on.

“I just think [he’s] learning a lot of things along the way,” manager Chris Woodward said before the game. “He’s added a pitch or two, but his ability to execute is phenomenal. Now, you add all the mental aspects and being able to control his emotions. He’s able to reset, execute and live in the moment. He doesn’t get too caught up in too many things.”

Pérez got caught up with some trouble in the fourth inning and resembled the pitcher who struggled in previous years, including his tenure with the Red Sox the past two seasons, where he posted a 4.50 ERA in 2020 and a 4.47 ERA in 2021. That one thing in prior seasons would always cost him, as Woodward said pregame.

That one thing this time was an 84 mph changeup that Aledmys Díaz crushed to left-center field for a grand slam that tied the game in the fourth inning.

“It was a good pitch,” Pérez said in Spanish. “I don’t have a bad feeling about that pitch because it is the pitch I wanted to throw, and located it where I wanted it. He put a good swing on it and hit it hard.”

The game flipped afterward for the 31-year-old hurler as the efficiency that was there in the first three innings -- 23 pitches thrown -- went out the door as Astros hitters got “stubborn”, as Woodward put it.

Houston’s ability to not budge in the strike zone created more walks and forced Pérez to throw in the zone to try to get outs. It led to hard contact, such as Jose Altuve’s RBI double in the fifth inning and Kyle Tucker’s RBI double in the sixth inning, and it created more run opportunities that the Astros cashed in on, like Yuli Gurriel’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

The mid-game hiccup was too much to overcome for Rangers hitters, although they hit three homers and gave Pérez a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth. It may have not been the Pérez that has won nine games and posted an impressive 3.00 ERA in his 22 starts that had him in the American League Cy Young conversation, but the team is not worried.

The Rangers are confident that he will accomplish the challenge set by Woodward during the offseason of finishing the year strong and that Tuesday’s outing was just one bad inning.

“Martín has been our best pitcher all year long,” Woodward said. “ I can’t say enough about what he has done, so I will give him a pass to have a bad inning like the fourth inning.”