Team perseveres for memorable win over Rangers

ARLINGTON — Silent for seven innings Tuesday and most of the previous seven games, the positivity remained in a dugout with nothing to justify it. Comebacks seemed easy for former Astros clubs, teams that preached passing the baton and professional bats.

This team doesn’t make anything seem so easy. The line-up is struggling to get runs like few have before. Stringing together productive plate performances with runners at base or in the scoring position is a chore. The Astros averaged 4.11 runs per game before taking the field in Texas on Tuesday. They had three runs or fewer in 32 of their first 61 games.

After seven innings of the 62nd, Houston faced a 3-0 deficit. Texas had a 95 percent chance of winning, according to Baseball Savant. Dejection spread to areas around the team, but not within. It was a comeback unprecedented this season and captured the kind of win that can turn around troubled times and reignite a leaderless offense.

“We’re always positive about things,” said second baseman Jose Altuve after the 4-3 win, just Houston’s third in the last eight games. “We’re trying to get to base. We never give up because we always think we can do it.”

The thought seemed silly for seven innings. Houston managed two hits and brought a runner to third base. Two of his most prolific hitters continued a free fall early in the season. A first-inning strikeout earned Altuve 12 in their last 24 plate appearances. Kyle Tucker established four baserunners in the first three frames before getting into a game-changing doubles game in the sixth.

“You just have to fight your way through it,” Tucker said. “They didn’t really throw too many pitches over the plate. When they did, we just didn’t hit it very well.”

In a clubhouse with no public superstitions, Tucker catches the eye. His handwear is a constant source of conversation. He became famous for batting with his bare hands, but has been known to switch to batting gloves amid a burglary. A 3-for-22 funk in late May forced him to put on gloves again for June.

Tucker wore them for 10 days, perhaps longer than any other time in his major league career. When asked why before Tuesday’s game, Tucker replied, “You get hits.” He was on a 12-game hitting streak.

Those three bats mentioned above put it in jeopardy. Before the fourth, Tucker returned to the dugout and made a drastic decision.

“I didn’t like my swings or (bats) before, so I was like, ‘Fuck that,'” Tucker said. “I’m done with them.”

It took Tucker two teammates to reach base to even take an eighth inning at bat. Texas turned to left-hander John King, former University of Houston southpaw, who allowed 10.5 hits per nine innings with a 1,579 WHIP.

The numbers aren’t great, but Houston’s offensive struggles this season haven’t let up against underperforming weapons. Texas starter Dane Dunning started Tuesday with a 4.41 ERA. He walked four batters, hit another, and gave up two doubles during his six-inning stint. The Astros still couldn’t score against him.

“We had a lull in the action,” said manager Dusty Baker. “We haven’t had much going on since the first inning.

“All of a sudden it just happened.”

This isn’t an Astros lineup to fulfill their abilities, but the faces and talent to fulfill that potential remain. At its best, Houston can strike with precision and stealth, ambushing an opponent before they can rally. King received a reminder.

Altuve hit the second pitch, which he threw into left field for a single. Michael Brantley hit his at-bat’s second offer to the right. Adolis García collected the baseball and noticed Altuve’s aggression.

Altuve rounded out second place and attempted to finish third. According to the Baseball Reference, Houston baserunners only need an extra base 37 percent of the time. No American League team converts less often. García has one of the strongest limbs in the game. Altuve beat it by a step.

“That was a bit risky, I think,” Altuve said, wide-eyed. “If it happens again, I’ll have to think twice. It ended up being closer than I thought.”

Baker added, “He’s a good and brave baserunner. He’s not afraid of making mistakes… That’s what you do, what you’re supposed to do. The outfielder had to go to the right to get the ball and then throw back to the left. He made an outstanding throw.”

The aggression allowed Alex Bregman to hit in an ideal situation. As so often during his season, Bregman didn’t take advantage. He put a cutter on Corey Seager, Texas’ $325 million shortstop. Marcus Semien stood at second base waiting for the fodder for a 6-4-3 doubles play.

Altuve left for home. Seager decided to try and grab him. Catcher Sam Huff sailed a relay throw that clipped third baseman Ezequiel Duran’s glove during the rundown. Altuve went home after the slip

“Probably,” said Texas manager Chris Woodward when asked if Seager should have played the doubles game instead.

“He asked me about it and admitted that he probably should have. Review is 20/20. He’s aggressive. He’s trying to do a play.”

Old-time Astros teams made opponents regret such a simple mistake. This one doesn’t have it. Sixty-one games isn’t enough for big charges, but halfway through the season is fast approaching. The Astros can cultivate a different identity, one where defense and pitching replace any offensive skill. An 8½ game lead in the American League West shows this is a good course of action.

Eventually, however, the Astros will encounter adversity that neither attribute can solve. They can only go as far as a few hitters will carry them. Tucker is one, a left-hander who is now sitting behind his left left-hander, Yordan Alvarez.

For so long, Baker hesitated to beat them back-to-back because of this very scenario: a left-hander who had an advantage late in games. Tuesday showed the value of it.

Alvarez made the only out against King when he landed on first base. Brantley scored and Bregman raced to third. Tucker, not Yuli Gurriel, stepped into the batter’s box. Gurriel’s batting average fell to .217 on Tuesday. He stood on deck while Tucker came in.

Barehanded and looking for a breakthrough, Tucker saw a first pitch slider. It had no bite. He hit the baseball and sent it into the Rangers’ bullpen. He rounded bases and put himself in an insane dugout, if only for an inning, that housed an offense similar to so many before him.

“This could be the win of the year,” Baker said. “I can’t remember a more exciting finish. We urgently needed that.”

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