HOUSTON – If there was ever a time the Astros were going to be unabashed fans of the automatic runner, it was in the 11th inning Thursday when center fielder Myles Straw — one of the fastest players in baseball — was set to begin the inning on second base.
Having Straw standing in scoring position with at least three chances to try to get him home was the ideal situation for the Astros. It turned out the Rangers provided a little bit of help, too.
Straw raced home from third base on a two-out wild pitch by Rangers reliever Brett Martin with the winning run to send the Astros to a dramatic 4-3 victory – their third in a row — at Minute Maid Park.
“It would certainly have been a downer to lose that game, especially when we had so many chances, but we’ll take it whenever we can it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
The Astros were 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 14 on base, which made Straw’s mad dash home even more pivotal. The Astros were able to get him home without the benefit of a hit, thanks to a well-executed sac bunt and some good intel from Straw.
“It’s a pain in the butt when a guy like that’s out there because, you know, obviously they bunted over,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Now any kind of ball in the dirt or anything like that, if it just gets a little bit away from you, yeah, he’s going to score. And that’s obviously what happened. Once he got to third base, you know his speed, it only factors on a passed ball really or a sacrifice situation, but I thought we had a good opportunity right there with [Chas] McCormick to kind of punch him out or get him out.”
After the Astros failed to score in the 10th — an inning that ended with Straw hitting into a double play when Joey Gallo caught his fly ball in right and threw out the pinch-runner McCormick at the plate with a 97.3 mph laser — Straw began the 11th with the Rangers holding him on second base. Jason Castro was at the plate.
“They wanted to keep me close just ‘cause they assumed we’re bunting, which we did, to maybe give them a shot at third base on a tag play,” Straw said. “That’s the smartest play there. You want to keep guys at second very close, and Castro put down a really good bunt and I was able to get there. They took out the out at first and set me up at third base.”
With a lefty on the mound, the Rangers walked Jose Altuve and took their chances with lefty hitter Michael Brantley, who struck out against Martin for the second out. Following a mound visit, the Rangers walked Alex Bregman to load the bases for McCormick, who had run for slugger Yordan Alvarez the inning prior.
“We felt great when you can start off with Straw,” Baker said. “I was just hoping it didn’t come back to haunt us that I had to run for Alvarez when his spot came up. We had to take a chance to try to win it long before we got to that.”
Straw was familiar with Martin from their time playing against each other in Double-A and knew he had a very good curveball. That meant he knew there was a chance he could throw a pitch in the dirt, so Straw had to be alert.
“I’ve seen him bounce it before and I’ve seen him bounce it to me before,” Straw said. “It’s one of his really good pitches. I was ready for that pitch and he threw a good one. It just got away.”
As the ball skipped away, Straw got a good break down the line and slid headfirst at the plate as catcher Jose Trevino’s desperation throw was late.
“That was kind of what we were hoping for,” Baker said. “You keep flirting with the bases loaded and there’s a lot of things that can happen for you — a hit batsman, a wild pitch, a base hit, an error.”
The only thing that remained was the celebration. Straw was too fast for the Rangers, but not for his teammates.
“I slid in and I saw the guys walking out [of the dugout],” Straw said. “I looked for Yuli [Gurriel] because I know he usually gets me with the ice bucket or the bubble gum out there and sure enough he got me with the bubble gum. It was a good team win.”