The Texas Rangers appeared to be on the verge of sweeping their interstate rival Wednesday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
However, the Houston Astros refused to go down without a fight against standout closer Neftali Feliz by posting four runs in the top of the ninth, capped off with the game-winning, two-run homer from pinch-hitter Matt Down, en route to a 5-3 victory.
Houston avoided being swept in the first half of the 2011 Lone Star Series and finished with a .500 record (3-3) on their six-game road trip.
Starters Brett Myers and Colby Lewis battled head-to-head in a solid pitchers’ duel, yet the final outcome was placed in the hands of the bullpens.
Myers allowed just two earned runs on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts over 101 pitches (59 for strikes) in six innings to put the Astros in position to win, despite earning a no-decision.
“He battled and did a good job tonight,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “Two runs through six innings was outstanding. His breaking stuff was really good and he was able to spot that fastball, which set that breaking stuff up. He did a really good job.”
The Rangers held a 2-0 lead after the fifth, thanks in part to Ian Kinsler crossing home plate in the first on Myers’ wild pitch and slugger Nelson Cruz connecting for his second homer of the series — a fifth-inning blast to left — that gave Lewis a small cushion.
Texas manager Ron Washington elected to pull Lewis, who was battling neck spasms, after seven shutout innings of three-hit ball and eight strikeouts, which ultimately shifted the momentum in favor of the Astros over the course of the late innings.
Jason Bourgeois cut the lead to 2-1 by grounding into a double play in the eighth that scored Angel Sanchez, but the Rangers instantly got the run back in the bottom half of the inning on third baseman Michael Young’s RBI double to right field.
“Angel Sanchez led off that eighth inning with a big pinch-hit single,” Mills said. “That was huge, too, to get us started. We had to have something get us started and he did just that for the team.”
Although Feliz (0-1) had thrown 35 pitches over two innings as part of Texas’ 5-4 walk-off win in 11 innings the previous night, Washington still decided to put the game in the hands of his closer, especially with the team on the verge of an off-day Thursday.
Slugger Carlos Lee kicked off the four-run rally in the ninth inning with a double that rolled into the left-field corner and came around to score on third baseman Chris Johnson’s RBI double.
Jason Michaels connected for a single, giving the Astros runners at first and third.
Johnson tied the game at 3-3 by scoring on a passed ball, which set the stage for Downs, who came off the bench to belt a monstrous two-run homer to left to end Houston’s eight-game homerless drought and lift the team to a much-needed win.
“He [Downs] has done a real good job off the bench,” Mills said. “That was a key spot for them. We felt comfortable with him putting a good swing on the ball. He continues to do an outstanding job.”
Mark Melancon (5-1) tossed a perfect ninth after giving up Young’s RBI double the previous inning to earn his fifth win of the season.
Houston went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position — a category which has been unfriendly to Mills’ squad over the last month.
“There’s no doubt tonight was a confidence booster,” Mills said. “With the guys battling so much, they were able to get something for it.”
The Astros are idle Thursday before kicking off a nine-game interleague homestand, beginning with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
Wandy Rodriguez (5-3, 2.88 ERA) will get the starting nod for the Astros in the Friday opener against Rays right-hander James Shields (7-4, 2.40 ERA) in what expects to be a solid pitching matchup between two of the hottest starting pitchers in the game.
Shields has recorded two straight complete games, including a shutout, in victories over the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox.
He currently ranks third in the American League in ERA (2.40), fifth in ERA (112 2/3), first in complete games (five), first in shutouts (three) and finds himself tied for second in strikeouts (108).
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