HOUSTON -- The first seven innings belonged exclusively to Rangers starter Colby Lewis. The bench-clearing fracas in the top of the ninth inning made for good theater.
But what really created some excitement at Minute Maid Mark on Saturday night was the Astros eighth-inning rally, the Rangers response in the ninth with two more runs and one more rally by the home team in the bottom of the inning.
When it was over, the Rangers' bullpen had thwarted the Astros' multiple comebacks and held on for a 7-6 victory before a sellout crowd at Minute Maid.
"That was obviously not how we wanted it to go at all," Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson said. "You can't say enough about our offense, fighting for their last at-bat. It got us two more runs that we needed and we came out on top."
The Rangers led, 5-1, going into the bottom of the eighth before the Astros started coming back and emotions started bubbling over before it was all over.
"We had a chance to win the series tonight and we didn't do it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They did a little bit more than us. They swung the bats extremely well. I think what you take away from it is we need to do a little bit better to come away with a win whether emotions are high, whether emotions are low, every out matters. We didn't use our outs well enough early in the game and we ran out of outs. That's what you take away. And we lost."
Lewis started the eighth by getting Hank Conger to ground out, then gave up a single to Jon Singleton. Rangers manager Jeff Banister brought in right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who was on the mound for the first time in six days because of the All-Star break. Tolleson pitched the ninth for the first time in seven days.
The layoffs appeared to affect them.
"It could have … they probably were not as sharp," Banister said. "You'd like to get your bullpen consistent work, but it hasn't worked out that way."
Marwin Gonzalez hit a liner to shallow center. Leonys Martin got his glove on it, dropped it, but recovered in time to get a force at second. Jose Altuve followed with a double to left-center and Gonzalez tried to score.
The Rangers relay from Martin to shortstop Elvis Andrus to catcher Robinson Chirinos made it close. But Gonzalez was ruled safe and the call was upheld after a Rangers challenge required 4 1/2 minutes to decide.
After Preston Tucker walked, Carlos Correa grounded a single off of second baseman Rougned Odor's glove and Altuve scored. Evan Gattis followed with a slow grounder to short that Andrus completely whiffed as he tried to field it on the run. The ball ended up in the outfield and before Odor could retrieve it, Tucker scored, Correa raced to third and Gattis was on second.
"They put good swings on some good pitches and we were able to rally," Correa said. "The crowd was able to be there the whole time and support us. That's something that kept us going and something that's going to make us play better."
At that point, Banister brought in left-hander Sam Freeman. He also had a message for his infield.
"I just tried to settle guys down and told them if we can get off the dirt and grass, we're going to win the ballgame," Banister said. "Just continue to stay focused and we'll be okay."
Freeman got the job done, retiring pinch-hitter L.J. Hoes on a grounder back to the mound. The Rangers, after a bench-clearing incident in the top of the ninth, padded their lead with two runs on a triple by Odor, Adrian Beltre's single and an RBI double by Josh Hamilton. They needed it because Tolleson started the ninth by giving up a double to Colby Rasmus and a home run to Conger.
"I felt pretty good," Tolleson said. "I felt sharp with all my stuff. I just made two bad pitches and they made me pay for them. I felt really good."
Tolleson recovered to retire the next three hitters to end the game.
"That was a hard fought game," Hinch said. "I thought both teams showed a lot of life. If you wonder if games in July matter, tonight's probably proof positive. There's some emotion involved and there's some intent to win the game. I thought our guys did a great job at the end. We didn't generate enough offense early in the game off of Lewis."