Andrus, veteran relievers come up clutch

Elvis Andrus was mobbed by teammates Wednesday after his walk-off sacrifice fly. And well he should have: It gave the Rangers a three-game sweep of the Astros.

 Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas -- How did Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington describe the last three innings of Wednesday night's 5-4 walk-off victory over the Houston Astros?

"It was tense," he said.

He used those three words to describe the moments leading up to shortstop Elvis Andrus delivering a sacrifice fly to left field to score Adam Rosales with one out in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Rangers a three-game sweep of Houston and a 2½-game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West.

After Andrus' heroics, it was pandemonium, with a few Rangers players pulling their shortstop by the jersey through the infield as they celebrated another clutch victory in August. The Rangers have won 18 of their past 22 games.

Washington had the tense part correct. And in stressful times, it's good to have guys who have been in pressure situations before.

It took the relief work of former closers Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor to get out of bases-loaded jams in the seventh and eighth innings, and the cool calm of Andrus, who at 24 has played in two World Series for the Rangers.

Let's start with Andrus. He gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh when he executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Craig Gentry. At the time, that insurance run looked like it would be enough to beat the 41-win Astros.

But the bullpen -- specifically Tanner Scheppers -- frittered away the lead in the top of the eighth with two hit batters, forcing the Rangers to win with their fifth walk-off victory of the season.

The Rangers responded in the bottom of the ninth by loading the bases, forcing Astros reliever Chia-Jen Lo to throw strikes. He couldn't. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a single, and Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin walked to fill the bases.

Andrus, who had missed a bunt earlier in the bottom of the fifth, had gained confidence for his ninth-inning at-bat by nearly hitting a home run that inning, flying out to the left-field fence. That helped him for his at-bat against Lo.

Of course, Washington could have gone with another squeeze, but with the advantage of having that planted in the Astros' minds, and a first-pitch ball, he let Andrus swing away with the Astros employing five infielders.

Andrus lofted a fly ball into not-too-deep left field, and pinch runner Rosales used his speed to easily beat a high throw home from Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman.

"I was trying to hit a fly ball," Andrus said. "It was a little easier today. I had two fly balls already. I was trying to stay below the ball and just put a good swing on it, especially with the way that we're playing in. I don't need to do much in that situation."

Andrus wouldn't have gotten his walk-off chance without Soria and Frasor.

Rangers starter Derek Holland looked like he was coasting to his third win at home this season with a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh. But a line drive from Jason Castro's bat that glanced off his left forearm seemed to rattle him.

He walked the next two batters he faced, loading the bases.

"It scared the crap out of me," Holland said of getting hit. "I had to calm myself down, I took deep breaths, but I couldn't do it and it cost me the win."

Soria came on with the bags full and got a double play. Even though the Astros scored to make it 3-2, the two outs were huge. After a walk, Soria got another ground ball to hold the lead.

The Rangers led 4-2 with two outs in the top of the eighth when Scheppers, fresh off a double-play ball, allowed two bloop hits, a walk and two wild pitches as the Astros cut the lead to 4-3.

And that was before he lost command of the strike zone. Scheppers hit the next two Astros, including striking rookie catcher Max Stassi in the face, to force in the tying run.

"It's one of those pitches that got away," Scheppers said of the 96 mph fastball that glanced off Stassi's shoulder before hitting his face.

Fortunately, the inning and the game didn't get away from the Rangers. Veteran right-hander Frasor came in with the bases still loaded and struck out Brett Wallace to keep the score at 4-all.

That set up Andrus' heroics. And the Rangers survived yet again.