ARLINGTON — From the first pitch of the game — a homer by outfielder Chas McCormick — to the last pitch of the night — reliever Ryne Stanek striking out Kole Calhoun to strand the tying run at third — the Astros were on the right side of some critical moments in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Field.
Here are three key reasons the Astros were able to win their second game in a row to get back to .500 at 9-9:
Javier solid in rotation return
Right-hander Cristian Javier, making his first start since May 23, 2021 (also at the Rangers), threw 84 pitches in five innings, giving up two runs, four hits and two walks while striking out five. The Astros pulled Javier from the bullpen when they decided to go with a six-man rotation during this stretch in which they’re playing 33 games in 34 days.
“I’m feeling pretty good and my arm feels healthy,” said Javier, who relied mostly on his fastball and sweeping slider. “I feel grateful for the team for giving me an opportunity to do this.”
Javier gave up a solo homer to Mitch Garver in the second and an RBI single by Brad Miller later in the inning, but was bailed out by left fielder Yordan Alvarez, who threw out Jonah Heim at the plate trying to score on a Calhoun single to end the inning (more on that later). His biggest out came on his final pitch, striking out Marcus Semien swinging on a fastball to end the fifth and strand a runner at first.
“We needed him to get through the fifth because that bullpen is a little worn,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Boy, when he struck out Semien, a very tough hitter, that was key. I said, ‘Hey man, if you want this, then you go get it. And we want you to have it.’ He needed it and we needed it.”
Remember when the Astros were hesitant to play Alvarez in left field? That’s certainly not the case anymore, and the big slugger is proving to be a rather proficient defender. He came up with the biggest defensive play Wednesday, firing a 91.2 mph one-hop throw — the hardest throw of his career, according to Stacast — to cut down Heim.
“I think the main thing for me is that he is finally healthy and his knees don’t bother him any more and it allows him to go out there more,” said outfield coach Gary Pettis. “He was always able to throw the baseball. I mean, I’ve seen it in practice and in Spring Training, but we really hadn’t seen it much in games because he really wasn’t presented with that many opportunities.”
When Miller hit his RBI single to left in the at-bat prior to Calhoun, Alvarez didn’t appear to get a good handle on the ball and threw it late, although the throw was 91.1 mph.
“The first throw tonight, he was in a hurry because he knew that the guy had some speed, so he didn’t get a good grip on the baseball,” Pettis said. “The second one, he took his time and made a very, very nice throw.”
Baker said the credit goes to Alvarez and his desire to improve as a defender.
“He don’t want to be known just as a DH,” he said. “He made a great throw. It was on the money. If you come out early, you’ll see him practicing. He’s out there everyday. I have to commend him and give him credit for trying to get better at his skills.”
Tucker joins lineup, gets key hit
The slow start to the season by right fielder Kyle Tucker appears to be a distant memory. Tucker, who originally wasn’t in the starting lineup, drilled a three-run double in the fifth that gave the Astros the lead, 4-2. Since starting the season 4-for-46, Tucker is 8-for-21 (.381) in his last five games.
“I was in there and we won the game, and that’s all that really matters,” he said.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Tucker lined a 1-1 curveball from lefty reliever Brett Martin and split the gap in left field to clear the bases. The three RBIs he picked up matched his total for the season coming into the game.
“He threw me a curveball up and I stayed on it well and hit it the other way and it worked out really well going into the gap,” Tucker said. “Yordan was hauling around the bases, scoring from first. That was basically the difference-maker in the game. The guys in front of me did a great job getting on and it worked out well for us.”
Alas, Baker said Tucker — who has started every game — will get his day off in Thursday’s series finale.
“I changed the lineup and good thing I did,” Baker said. “He came through with the biggest hit of the night.”