Ramirez lifts Rangers over Astros

Ramirez lifts Rangers over Astros

HOUSTON -- Anybody who has been paying attention knows that Max Ramirez has a great reputation for being able to swing the bat, and he reaffirmed that on a humid night in Houston on Wednesday.

But manager Ron Washington, pleased as he was with that on a night when the Rangers really needed offensive help, saw something else in his catcher.

He saw Ramirez handle himself well behind the plate.

That thrilled Washington more than anything even after Ramirez's two-run home run proved to be the difference in the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Ramirez's home run came on a night when the Rangers were without both Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley in the lineup for the first time this season.

The victory also all but clinches the Silver Boot Trophy for the Rangers for the second straight year and fourth time in the past five years. The Rangers are up 3-2 with one game to play. If the Astros win Thursday, the trophy is decided by run differential and the Rangers are already plus-11 in that category.

The Rangers aren't worried about that as much as trying to make it through until they can get Bradley and Hamilton back in the lineup. Ramirez helped much on Wednesday with both his bat and his glove.

"We certainly weren't at full strength but that kid behind the plate did a great job," Washington said. "Not only swinging the bat but handling our pitching staff. The kid knows how to swing the bat, but the thing I wanted to see was him handling the pitching staff and get them through nine innings. He did just that. That's what matters most and he did an excellent job."

Ramirez was playing in his second Major League game but his first behind the plate. He started at first base on Sunday in Washington. He was 0-for-3 on Sunday but singled in his first at-bat against Roy Oswalt on Wednesday, then followed that up with a two-run home run in the fourth.

"I can't believe it," Ramirez said. "It was so exciting. My first home run, my first game behind the plate, a really good game. I felt good behind the plate. I tried to do my best job."

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Rangers starter Scott Feldman said. "I saw him in Double-A and he was the best hitter I saw by far. I wouldn't be surprised if he has a lot more games like that. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised."

The Rangers trailed 2-1 going into the fourth when Ramirez came up with one on and two out against Oswalt. The count went to 3-1, then Ramirez jumped on a fastball and crushed it to deep left-center.

"I had one pitch that came back over the plate for a two-run home run, but other than that not too bad," Oswalt said. "It just kind of came back ... 3-1 ... I threw a fastball with a new guy on the plate. It took about three at-bats before I figured out what he was trying to do."

Feldman couldn't stay around long enough to get the full benefit of Ramirez's work. He gave up only two runs but came out after just four innings because he had thrown 99 pitches.

"I thought he was a little out of sync but he hung in there and battled," Washington said. "They worked him too hard in the fourth inning to send him out in the fifth, but he's a fighter."

Feldman wasn't particularly happy coming out so quickly, but Luis Mendoza took over and pitched three scoreless innings, retiring nine of 11 batters he faced, to get the victory. Eddie Guardado and C.J. Wilson finished it off, although both ran into trouble.

Guardado, taking over in the eighth, gave up a one-out double to Carlos Lee, but first baseman Frank Catalanotto made a terrific diving catch on Hunter Pence's line drive to start an inning-ending double play.

Wilson made it even more harrowing. He allowed a double to Ty Wigginton leading off the inning and walked Michael Bourn with two out. Third baseman Ramon Vazquez bobbled Mark Loretta's grounder for an error, but Wilson got Miguel Tejada on a grounder to short to end the threat.

"The main thing C.J. did was he kept throwing strikes," Washington said. "He kept trying to pound that strike zone."

Rangers pitchers allowed 10 hits and three walks, but with Ramirez leading them behind the plate, they held the Astros to 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. That's what won the ballgame for the Rangers as much as Ramirez's home run.

"They've got a pretty good hitting club, too," Washington said. "That's not easy but the kid did great. He certainly received the ball well, he went down in the dirt and blocked the ball well, he framed the ball and caught it and he was in sync with his pitchers. Not once did I see them shake him off. He did an outstanding job."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.