Sometimes, it does help to have a smart manager in the dugout. For all the decision scientists and stat crunchers, the Astros needed somebody to notice in the ninth inning on Sunday that Rangers reliever Keone Kela went through his two-out pitch from the stretch position to Evan Gattis without coming to a complete stop. That, baseball fans, is called a balk and though no umpire at the time called it (where's Bob Davidson when you need him?), Houston skipper A.J. Hinch came racing out of the dugout to remind them.
Hinch wins the argument
(c) Associated Press
The umpires convened and called the balk which scored George Springer from third and essentially stole a game right from underneath the Rangers' noses in an 8-7 Houston triumph. Rangers Manager Jeff Banister was livid and had every right to be. But he also knew the only outcome of protesting was an early exit which is exactly what happened - the second ejection of the year for Banister.
Hinch was right. If you get to watch the replay, there's no stop in Kela's motion, something any pitcher who does not throw from a wind-up has to do for the pitch to be legal. The rule is in place to prevent crafty pitchers from making a pick-off move while pretending to throw home. It was clearly a balk.
The question then becomes how all four umps missed it then changed their minds without consulting instant replay? How does that happen? Banister had every right to be upset about it.
Hector Rondon, who seems to have clearly become the closer du jour, struck out the side to make sure the umpire's gift did not go to waste, unlike what became of the seven other Houston runs scored on the afternoon.
Springer opened the show with a first-pitch homer against Matt Moore that nestled onto the Grassy Knoll for a 1-0 lead. Later that inning, Gattis singled home Jose Altuve for a 2-0 advantage.
The bats were just getting started. Alex Bregman smoked a two-run triple in the second. Altuve followed with an RBI double then Yuli Gurriel singled him in to give Dallas Keuchel a 6-0 edge.
That ought to be the game right there for 80% of the league's starting pitchers but Keuchel is clearly not what he was in 2015 or 2017. He just needed to survive long enough to record 15 outs for the win but he could not do it. I think it is time to let him work his warts out of the Houston bullpen and let Collin McHugh take Keuchel's place in the rotation until Dallas is back to his normal self.
The Rangers put up deuces in the second, fourth and fifth innings to tie it up at 6-6. Keuchel allowed 13 hits in 4-1/3rd innings before Tony Sipp got him out of the fifth.
Ken Giles had a solid relief outing, registering five outs without allowing a run or a hit. Gurriel then put Houston back in front in the seventh with just his second home run of the season. It was part of a four-hit afternoon for the clean-up hitter. The Rangers tied it in the eighth against Will Harris when nemesis Adrian Beltre drove home Nomar Mazara.
Springer drew a four-pitch walk to start the ninth and moved up on a wild pitch. Springer moved up to third on Gurriel's fly out to center for the second out. That's when Alfonso Marquez agreed with Hinch that a balk had been committed, leading Houston to the first four-game sweep of the Rangers in franchise history.
Seattle won so the Astros maintained their tie for the AL West division lead. The stalemate will be broken Monday when the M's host the Angels.
The Champs, meanwhile, have Monday off to fly to Oak-Town for a three-game series at Yoko O.No Coliseum which will begin Tuesday night in a 9:05 pm Central sleepy-bye start time. Lance McCullers (7-3) will duel with Daniel Mengden (6-5) in a battle of righthanders.
The Astros have also sent reliever Joe Smith to the 10-day disabled list with elbow discomfort and called up lefty Reymin Guduan from AAA Fresno. Guduan is 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 20 games this year.
- Bob Hulsey