HOUSTON — So much for the Texas Rangers and the rest of the American League West teams taking advantage of the lowly Houston Astros.
At least for one night.
Houston made its American League debut but thumping the Rangers 8-2 Sunday night in baseball’s season opener.
The Astros, who many expect to lose more than 100 games for a third-consecutive season, took advantage of Matt Harrison and the Texas bullpen to win their first season opener since 2006. In doing so, the Astros snapped a four-game Opening Day winning streak by the Rangers.
Houston also was able to revel in something it hasn’t been able to do much recently — a win over their new in-state rivals. The Rangers entered the game having won 19 of the last 24 meetings against the Astros.
But in the first of 18 meetings this year, it was all Astros.
“Fans always get excited about Opening Day and you always want to win to get off to a good start,” Texas catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “It’s one game. We’ve got 161 more. It will be nice to come in and the hoopla will be gone and get back to regular baseball.”
While the Astros won by six runs, the game turned on a couple of plays.
Harrison, who matched a career high with nine strikeouts, ran into trouble in the fourth after sailing through the first three innings. He allowed a one-out single to Brett Wallace and then a two-out single to Carlos Pena in a scoreless game.
Justin Maxwell then hit a ball to left that would have been a routine fly in most parks. But with the wall in left at Minute Maid Park just 315 feet from home plate, that wasn’t the case. Maxwell’s ball hit off the top of the wall and both runs scored.
Houston made it 4-0 in the fifth but the Rangers answered with two runs in the top of the sixth. Harrison came back out for the bottom of the sixth but two walks ended his night and Texas manager Ron Washington called on Derek Lowe to make his Texas debut.
It was a forgettable one as Lowe hung a breaking ball to Rick Ankiel and he slapped it over the wall in right, breaking the game open.
“He (Lowe) threw a breaking ball right into his bat,” Washington said. “I thought he (Harrison) had went as far as he needed to go. I was expecting him to get a ground ball. He threw a breaking ball and Ankiel caught it. I know what they (the bullpen) can do. Right there I trust Derek Lowe. Right there he just didn’t make the pitch.”
Harrison sailed along through three innings, needing just 38 pitches to get to the fourth. But by the time the game was over, he had been charged with six runs on six hits and three walks.
It wasn’t the kind of outing he was hoping for in his first Opening Day start. He pointed to the fourth inning after the loss.
“It was just a matter of not executing the pitches, especially in the at-bats to Wallace and Pena,” Harrison said. “They were being very aggressive, all the guys were. I felt if I just executed the pitches better, maybe farther down in the zone, I might have got some swings and misses or weaker contact. I just have to do a better job of executing pitches when I have to.”
Harrison would have had to execute almost every pitch as the Rangers struggled to get anything going against Bud Norris.
The revamped Texas lineup had just two singles to show for their efforts against Norris through four innings despite making him throw 68 pitches. Texas, which has been shutout just one time in season openers, finally scratched for two runs in the sixth on consecutive RBI singles from David Murphy and Nelson Cruz.
But Pierzynski, who was the go-ahead run, flied out to center to end the threat.
The Rangers had just six hits on the night, all singles. Norris allowed two runs on five hits.
“His slider is pretty good,” said Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, who went 0 for 4. “He kept us off balance early and he got out of jams with that pitch. He did a really good job and didn’t let us feel comfortable out there. They played better than us today.”