ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field may not have seemed like the site of a major event Tuesday night. Yet for the Astros and Rangers, whose home state has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in recent days, the neutral-site game served as a much-needed reminder that baseball can help lift the spirits even during the toughest of times.
Unfortunately for the Astros, their first game as the home team in St. Petersburg ended with a 12-2 loss at the hands of the Rangers, who scored early and often against Houston right-hander Mike Fiers.
Still, the clearly audible cheers from the fans -- many of them clearly pulling for the Astros -- served as a reminder to the players that what's going on in Houston is much bigger than baseball.
Fans wishing to assist in the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts can now visit YouCaring.com/AstrosHarvey to make a donation. Proceeds will benefit the Astros Foundation's hurricane relief efforts.
"I really thank the crowd for coming out," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Just having the number of fans that we did that pledged their support, I'm sure they donated their time and their money just to come out to a unique series. I really appreciate the people here that did that."
Texas scored four runs in the third and four more in the fourth against Fiers, jumping out to an 8-2 lead.
"These are the games that are most fun," said Texas slugger Joey Gallo, who blasted a two-run shot off Fiers in the third, his 36th homer of the season. "Everybody going up there and you don't think anybody is going to get out. You are wondering when this game is going to end. It's a lot of fun when the offense is swinging like that. I am glad I could be a part of it, honestly."
Fiers was charged with eight runs on eight hits and three walks in four innings.
"It felt like a road game even though we were the home team," Fiers said. "But there's no excuse to go out there and pitch like I did. I just have to be better."
Shin-Soo Choo's three-run home run against Francis Martes in the fifth pushed the lead to 11-2, taking any steam out of the Astros' engine.
Elvis Andrus had four hits and fell a home run shy of the cycle, while Martin Perez covered seven innings while allowing two earned runs, earning him his fifth straight victory. Andrus batted 6-for-14 with two home runs when the Rangers swept the Rays in Central Florida earlier this season and is a career .336 hitter in 125 at-bats at the ballpark.
"Both teams handled the situation, getting on a plane and flying here and get set up to play a baseball game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "We had a crowd show up, too, to come see these two teams play."
Tropicana Field tried to make the Astros feel at home with some unusual features, including the players' own walk-up music and a seventh-inning playing of "Deep in the Heart of Texas."
"The Rays did a great job of welcoming us and the Rangers," Hinch said. "The fans were great, had a lot of kids come out today to see some really good players on both sides. I'm happy that we were able to play the game today, but obviously disappointed in the result."
Houston's skipper refused to use any of the surrounding circumstances as an excuse for his club's performance, instead crediting the Rangers.
"This was more about baseball and less about distractions or frustrations," Hinch said. "They beat us. The Rangers beat us, that's the bottom line."
Even the winning team seemed to understand that the night was about more than just baseball.
"We're kind of playing for Texas right now, there's really no ... rivalry," Gallo said. "We're just going out there trying to make Texas happy."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Wild way to start the scoring: The Rangers batted 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position during a three-game sweep by the Athletics last weekend. Texas did not need a hit for its first run Tuesday, as Fiers' curveball skipped past catcher Evan Gattis and allowed Robinson Chirinos to score. Texas came alive after the wild pitch and promptly added three more runs before finishing its shalf of the third.
Beltre passes Mr. Cub: The Astros cut the Rangers' lead in two with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the third, but the Rangers quickly retaliated. Texas doubled down and added another four-spot in its next time up, which Adrian Beltre capped with a two-run single to right field. That gave Beltre 1,637 RBIs, passing Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks for 28th on the all-time list.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Texas won a neutral-site game for the first time in its history. The Rangers were 0-7 all-time in neutral contests, their last coming in 2007 against the Rays at the Walt Disney World Complex in Orlando, Fla.
"First of all, for both of these teams, especially with Houston and their situation, all parties [with] heavy hearts for what's going on back home," Banister said. "For these guys, a little bit of the unknown with their families and reality is we wanted to go out and put together the best game we possibly could with a lot of energy. I felt both teams did that."
DAVIS MAKES PITCHING DEBUT
On a night when little went right for the Astros on the field, J.D. Davis provided a highlight. The rookie played the first eight innings at the hot corner before being asked to pitch the ninth, making his Major League debut on the mound.
Davis, who was both a hitter and pitcher at Cal State-Fullerton, pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Choo on a breaking ball to end his frame.
"It was kind of surreal to be back on the mound, especially on the Major League level," Davis said. "It was fun. I didn't try to do too much."
Davis was having success with his fastball, which sat around 91 mph. But with two strikes on Choo, Gattis caught his pitcher by surprise with his next sign.
"I was surprised Gatty threw down the two for a breaking ball; I just tried to throw it for a strike," Davis said.
So was it a slider or a curveball?
"It was some kind of breaking ball," he said.
WHAT'S NEXT Rangers:Andrew Cashner (7-9, 3.44) takes the mound Wednesday at 6:10 p.m. CT in St. Petersburg for the second of three against the Astros. The Angels touched up Cashner in his last start, in which he allowed four runs in six innings. But the Rangers' right-hander has a 2.81 ERA over his past eight starts.
Astros:Dallas Keuchel (11-2, 2.58) will try to pick up his first career win in St. Petersburg, having gone 0-3 with a 4.97 ERA in four career starts under the dome. All four of those starts came against the Rays, so perhaps the sight of the Rangers will help, as the former AL Cy Young Award winner is 2-0 with a miniscule 0.71 ERA against Texas in two starts this season.