Coming off five consecutive losing seasons since their latest postseason appearance, the Texas Rangers are in the midst of a long, arduous climb back to respectability.
While dropping the third game of a four-game set to the visiting Houston Astros 4-3 on Wednesday, Texas committed the type of mental mistake that keeps losing teams at the bottom of the standings.
The Rangers will look to bounce back Thursday to earn a split of the four-game series in Arlington, Texas.
With Houston up 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth, Willie Calhoun worked a leadoff walk and advanced to third base when Adolis Garcia followed with a double.
Calhoun then failed to come home on a Jonah Heim ground ball to the right side of the infield. Instead of cutting the deficit to one run and allowing Garcia to take third with just one out, Calhoun froze. He later scored on a Brad Miller grounder to short, but Garcia was ultimately stranded at third representing the tying run.
"It's always one mental lapse that gets in the way of us winning a game," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. "We've got to get better at that."
Left-hander Martin Perez (0-2, 3.86 ERA) will start the series finale for Texas on Thursday. He twirled six shutout innings in his previous start, allowing two hits and one walk with five strikeouts in a no-decision during a 2-0 win over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. Perez recorded the first, and to date only, quality start by a Texas pitcher this season.
Perez is 8-5 with a 3.01 ERA over 14 career starts against the Astros, his lowest lifetime ERA against any American League opponent. He went 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in two starts last year vs. Houston while pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (1-1, 1.89 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros.
Verlander allowed three runs on four hits with five strikeouts over six innings in his previous start but did not factor into the decision during the Astros' 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.
He will be facing the Rangers for the first time since making six starts against them in 2019, during which he went 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA. Verlander, 18-8 with a 2.71 ERA over 31 career starts against the Rangers, will make his first career start at Globe Life Field.
Even with Verlander, the staff ace, headed to the mound in the series finale, the Astros were hopeful that right-hander Cristian Javier could provide some length in his first start of the season on Wednesday. Javier made three scoreless relief appearances prior to tossing a season-high 84 pitches in five innings against the Rangers.
After allowing two runs during a stressful, 29-pitch second inning, Javier faced just one batter over the minimum during his final three innings. His strikeout of Marcus Semien with a runner on base completed a solid outing, and Javier wound up earning the win.
"In the fifth, that was kind of the turning point," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "We needed to get through the fifth because our bullpen is a little worn.
"So when he struck out Semien, a very tough hitter, that was key. I said, 'If you want this, go get it. We want you to have it.' He needed it and we needed it."
--Field Level Media