ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers’ biggest players came up big in the first game of a big four-game series on Monday night, allowing the Rangers to move within a half-game of first place in the AL West.
Prince Fielder followed Adrian Beltre’s one-out single in the eighth inning with a tiebreaking, two-run home run to straight-away center field into a stuff wind to lead Texas to a 5-3 win over the first-place Houston Astros.
Mitch Moreland hit his team-leading 20th home run and left-hander Cole Hamels stranded nine runners in seven innings for Texas, which has won four straight against the Astros and leads the season series 9-4.
“We had to grind and show some mental and grit,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “Didn’t get rattled. Stayed focused. It really goes along with how we’ve played all year.”
“Every day, we’re going to talk about someone’s going to have the lead,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “We have it, and we’ve had it for a long time.”
Fielder’s homer, which traveled an estimated 408 feet, came on 3-2 pitch from Will Harris (5-4). It ended a 46 at-bat homerless for the slugger.
“That felt good,” Fielder said. “Anytime you square a ball up, you feel good.”
The Rangers, who finished with the league’s worst record last season, haven’t been this close to first place since April 17. They hold a one-game lead over Minnesota for the league’s second wild card, which they’ve held since Aug. 27.
Hamels allowed three runs in seven innings and expressed disappointment in his performance. Banister moved him back a day in the rotation to open the series. Jose Altuve hit Hamels’ sixth pitch for his 12th homer to put Houston ahead two batters in.
“This is the type of playoff atmosphere that you’re trying to play in front of,” said Hamels, a veteran of two World Series with the Phillies. “You can’t leave pitches out over the plate ’cause every single one of those guys in that lineup can do damage.”
Keone Kela (7-5) got the win, retiring one of two batters, and Shawn Tolleson earned his 32nd save in 34 attempts.
In a matchup of high profile left-handers acquired in late July, neither Hamels nor Houston’s Scott Kazmir earned a decision.
Houston is 2-5 on a season-high 11-game road trip. The Astros’ 29-43 road record is the worst in the league.
Hamels was the third of five consecutive left-handers that Houston will face on this trip.
BALK ON . THE MANAGER?
Banister took blame for a balk called on Hamels in the fifth inning. The Rangers dugout thought Houston’s Jake Marisnick might have missed first base on a double off the wall in left-center. Hamels was instructed to appeal the play, throwing over to first, but failed to step off the pitching rubber first. “That’s on me,” Banister said. “He’s looking over at us, and he just made a play to first base.”
WORTH THE GAMBLE
Mike Napoli started in left field for the second straight day after never previously playing the position before because Banister wants Napoli’s right-handed bat in the lineup against left-handers while still playing left-handed hitting Moreland at first. Napoli dropped his first fielding chance in a play that didn’t lead to a run, but Moreland contributed a two-run homer. “That’s an acceptable trade-off,” Banister said.
Astros: 3B Jed Lowrie was hit by a pitch in the first inning and left after four innings with a left shin contusion.
Rangers: OF Shin-Soo Choo was in the starting lineup after leaving Sunday’s game after eight innings with neck stiffness.
Astros RHP Collin McHugh (16-7) has won his last three starters. His career record against Texas is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA, two wins coming this season.
Rangers LHP Derek Holland (3-2) was moved up a day to pitch on his usual four days’ rest. He has a 2.97 ERA in seven starts since coming off the disabled list in late August.