Wright, Astros' bullpen can't corral Rangers

After Keuchel's solid start, reliever gives up go-ahead shot in seventh

Wright, Astros' bullpen can't corral Rangers

HOUSTON -- The last thing Astros veteran relief pitcher Wesley Wright wanted to do was come into a tie game and tiptoe around the strike zone and wind up with a mess on his hands. Wright instead challenged Rangers left fielder Jeff Baker with a first-pitch fastball and wound up paying for it.

Baker cranked a tiebreaking solo home run to the opposite field on the first pitch Wright threw in the seventh inning to send the Rangers to a 4-2 win over the Astros in the series opener between the American League West intrastate rivals Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

"I came in trying to get ahead, and he was able to drive it out to the opposite field, which you have to tip your hat when guys are able to do that," Wright said.

Wright, who was unwittingly at the center of controversy Thursday when he was brought into the game but taken out prematurely before throwing a pitch, suffered his first loss of the season for the Astros, who have dropped 17 of 21 to the Rangers.

Baker had never faced Wright and wound up with his fourth homer of the season in only 36 at-bats. David Murphy socked the Rangers' third homer of the night in the ninth inning, off Travis Blackley.

"It was a good pitch to hit," Baker said. "I don't swing at the first pitch a lot, but it was a good pitch, so I swung and let it go."

Wright replaced left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who made his first start of the season and held the Rangers to two runs and five hits in six solid innings. He walked Elvis Andrus with the bases loaded in the third and gave up a long game-tying homer to Nelson Cruz in the sixth.

"Dallas was tremendous," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He did a great job attacking the zone, sinking the ball away and was able to pitch to both sides of the plate and get a lot of ground balls and kept us right there for six innings."

Rangers manager Ron Washington lauded the performance of the lefty.

"He always throws good against us," Washington said. "He threw a cut fastball, he sinks it, he's around the plate and he changes speeds. Guys like that give us trouble. He was competing out there and he held down a pretty good offensive team."

Keuchel, who made his Major League debut against the Rangers a year ago, had pitched six games in relief for the Astros this year while making one start at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He's a starter by trade, and his quality outing against the Rangers was a boon to an Astros rotation that's righted the ship after a rough spell.

"I felt like I could have gone longer," said Keuchel, who threw a season-high 83 pitches. "I felt like I was on a pretty good roll with everybody grounding out, except for that mammoth bomb I gave up. I guess he wanted to get me out of there on a positive note. That third inning I walked the bases loaded, that's the run I'd like to have back. I was attacking the zone in that sixth inning, and the only pitch I would like to have back is that bases-loaded walk."

Porter was indeed trying to protect Keuchel when he pulled him after six innings.

"That's the most pitches he's thrown all year," the manager said. "You don't want to put him in a [bad] position. He's pitched too well to go back out for the seventh inning and then you get one guy on base and I'm going to go get him, and now you're asking someone else to save his runs. I'm one of those that really believes in quality, positive starts, and that there is a positive start."

Bringing Wright, a lefty, into the game to face a string of right-handed hitters at the bottom of the batting order might have been a tad unconventional, but Porter's right-handed options were limited to Paul Clemens and closer Jose Veras.

"If you bring Clemens in that spot, he's not going to face [Baker], he's going to face Murphy [a lefty bat]," Porter said. "I felt more comfortable with Wesley facing the bottom of that lineup."

The Astros, who left the bases loaded in the first inning, got a leadoff homer from Trevor Crowe in the second in his first start of the season, which came in left field. In the third, Jose Altuve doubled and wound up scoring on a wild pitch to put the Astros ahead, 2-1.

Crowe's homer off Rangers starter Alexi Ogando was his first since July 23, 2010, a span of 234 at-bats.

"It's good to get your team off to a lead, but I would have liked to have had more consistent at-bats throughout the game," Crowe said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.