Rangers' rally falls short vs. Astros

Rangers' rally falls short vs. Astros

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers dropped back under .500 with Sunday's 5-4 loss to Houston.

That didn't put a damper on the mood in the clubhouse, considering what the Rangers have accomplished in the last 23 days and that they battled back from a five-run deficit to almost sweep the first round of the Interleague Lone Star Series.

The Rangers have won seven consecutive series in improving to 22-23. They won all three series on this homestand. Two of the three losses were by one run. The Rangers have the best record in baseball at 15-7 since April 25.

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They seem to have fixed their defensive problems. They scored at least four runs in eight of the nine games in the homestand. The bullpen has a 2.52 ERA in May. Oh, and don't forget a 3.60 ERA for the rotation this month.

"We played good baseball, and we battled all the way to the end," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We're excited about where we're at. We feel good about where we're at."

Not to say there aren't a few things that manager Ron Washington will pick at after Sunday's loss to the Astros.

Kason Gabbard wasn't as sharp as he has been lately, allowing five runs in five innings. He started with five groundouts and three strikeouts in three shutout innings. Then he got unlucky and also made a few poor pitches.

Miguel Tejada and Lance Berkman were able to find holes in the infield to start the fourth. Then with one out, Hunter Pence was safe on the first of four close plays at first base, this one maybe the closest.

Gabbard seemed to buckle after that. He walked Mark Loretta, hitting .233, to force in a run to give Houston a 1-0 lead. Ty Wigginton's fielder choice's plated another run. Then Gabbard gave up a ringing double to No. 9 hitter J.R. Towles, who was batting .144 entering the game.

The Astros scored two more in the top of the fifth for a 5-0 lead as Tejada had an RBI double and Carlos Lee had a sacrifice fly.

It didn't help Gabbard that the Rangers ran themselves out of a rally in the bottom of the fourth. Kinsler singled to start the inning and went to third on Frank Catalanotto's single to right.

Michael Young then hit a shallow popup that Astros second baseman Kazuo Matsui had to go back on to catch. Kinsler broke for home even though it was the first out, thinking Matsui was on his heels. Instead, Matsui made a strong throw, and Kinsler was out easily at home. Milton Bradley then struck out to end the inning.

"I have to understand the situation," Kinsler said. "I got too aggressive. It might have been a mistake. It probably was a mistake. It's funny how you do something like that, and it ends up being a one-run game."

Kinsler's over-aggressiveness hurt the Rangers because Bradley finally got to Astros starter Brandon Backe, who had allowed two hits through the first six innings.

Bradley turned things around on Backe with a two-run home run, his eighth, with one out in the seventh. Then David Murphy followed with a solo shot to get the Rangers back in the game and chase Backe. It was the second time the Rangers have gone back-to-back this season, both on this homestand, with Bradley a part of both.

The Rangers cut it to 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth on Catalanotto's two-out double to score Kinsler, giving Young a chance with the tying run on second. But Young grounded out to second against Astros closer Jose Valverde.

Gerald Laird had a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth off the always exciting Valverde, who has been sensational of late. But rookie Brandon Boggs, who already had two strikeouts in the game, made it a hat trick.

"We played the hottest team in baseball and took the first two, and they had to fight for the third," Washington said. "We played good baseball."

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.