HOUSTON -- It was a weird, unforgiving day at the ballpark for the Rangers on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. It started when ace Kyle Gibson walked the first two Astros hitters in the bottom of the second inning, proceeded to walk the bases loaded and then walk in the first run of the game, en route to issuing a career-high eight walks in six innings.
The Rangers offense -- which had been making strides -- hoping to break out of their post-All-Star break slump, couldn’t get a hit until the top of the eighth inning, narrowly avoiding making history by being no-hit three times in the 2021 season.
Ultimately, the Rangers fell, 4-1, to the Astros, extending their losing streak to 11 games. Texas hasn’t led in a game since July 10 against the A's, posting 95 consecutive innings without a lead.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward credited Astros starter Framber Valdez for his pitching performance, as he tossed six no-hit innings before being lifted at 99 pitches.
Woodward then noted that he felt the club had a good game plan against Valdez, and he was confident that the offense would be able to make something happen.
That plan was to avoid chasing Valdez’s “elite” curveball and get underneath Valdez’s sinker, which he threw 33 times out of his 99 total pitches.
“We followed our game plan, we just needed the last piece of it,” Woodward said. “We have to get the ball in the air. Everything [Valdez] throws is going downwards. We’re a young offensive team. However, you have to figure out a way to get underneath that sinker.
“You’ve got to find a way to do it, because they're just gonna pound balls in the ground all day, and that's what [they] did. We had 11 ground balls. You’ve got to be able to get under the sinker if you're going to survive in this league. You have to have more tools in your bag than just going up and putting the ball in play.”
Shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa broke up the no-hit bid with a fly-ball single to right-center field, bouncing just under the glove of Astros center fielder Myles Straw. A 411-foot homer from Andy Ibáñez in the ninth inning avoided the shutout.
While the Rangers have yet to win a game in the second half, Ibáñez has been a bright spot in the lineup. The infielder is slashing .412/.500/.765 over his last seven games and reached base in every plate appearance on Saturday with two walks and an error.
“I’ve just been impressed with this kid,” Woodward said. “He's gotten better, and I think that he's progressing into the hitter we kind of expected and that we know he can be. He's grinding. He's been having a lot of quality at-bats since the beginning of the second half.”
Gibson grinded through a quality start, throwing six innings and allowing just two earned runs, despite issuing a career-high eight walks. It was just the second quality start by a Rangers pitcher to include eight or more walks in the last 31 seasons, joining Chan Ho Park in 2002.
Gibson said he felt off earlier in the game but was able to buckle down and get through six without allowing too much damage.
“Other than [Jose] Altuve’s first at-bat [a four-pitch walk], I thought we had a really good game plan against them all night,” Gibson said.