HOUSTON -- Club president Nolan Ryan, after spending three days sitting with his wife Ruth in the second row behind home plate, was beaming in the Rangers' clubhouse on Sunday afternoon.More
"Those are the fun ones," Ryan said with a big smile.
The Hall of Famer certainly had reason to enjoy himself on Sunday while watching Brandon McCarthy finish off the Rangers' three-game sweep of the Astros in the Lone Star Series. McCarthy, perhaps showing a good sense of timing, pitched the first shutout of his career in a 5-0 victory at Minute Maid Park. The three successive victories over the Astros this weekend came right after the Rangers had been swept by the Tigers at the beginning of the roadtrip in Detroit. "It was just good to get out of Detroit," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "We came down here and got back on track. Our pitching stepped up and the offense stepped up, now we just need to carry it over against the Yankees." The Rangers, sitting in first place in the American League West, go into their three-game series with the Yankees on Monday having won 20 of their past 28 games, and they left Houston having made a deep impression on Astros manager Cecil Cooper. "They've got all sorts of hitters," Cooper said. "They've got left, right, they've got young guys, veteran guys ... but what I'm most impressed about their club is the way they pitched and caught the ball. That's why they're where they are." McCarthy definitely pitched on Sunday. He allowed nine hits, making this the fifth time in Rangers history that a pitcher has thrown a shutout while allowing at least nine hits. Rick Helling had been the last to do it on May 6, 1994, in a nine-hitter against the Twins. Gaylord Perry pitched an 11-hit shutout in 1977 against the Blue Jays and Bert Blyleven had a 10-hitter against the White Sox in '76. McCarthy made up for the high number of hits by walking just one batter and holding the Astros to 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. He struck out six. "That was great for McCarthy and great for the Texas Rangers," manager Ron Washington said. "It's a confidence thing more than anything," McCarthy said. "It shows I can get deep in the game and get results. It shows I can be there at the end, fight through the fatigue and still make pitches. It's a big confidence boost." In the clubhouse, McCarthy, Washington and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- who, along with Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, hit solo homers in the win -- once again went down the usual checklist of what was working Sunday afternoon and why Rangers starting pitchers are 14-6 with a 3.40 ERA in their last 28 games. McCarthy featured both sharp breaking stuff and excellent fastball command. He got the ball down and he got ahead of hitters. His defense was terrific behind him. It's a familiar formula over the past month. "That's the Brandon McCarthy I know and that's the way he can throw every time out," Saltalamacchia said. "Getting ahead of the guys was the key," McCarthy said. "Salty did a great job of keeping me in line and calling pitches. From there, I just let them put the bat on the ball. Our defense is making great plays right now." What they danced around in the clubhouse was the timing of the shutout. McCarthy came into the game with a 5.76 ERA on the season, the highest among Rangers starters. Make that the highest ERA among six starters in a five-man rotation -- Vicente Padilla is on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, but is expected back in 1-2 weeks. Padilla was replaced in the rotation by Derek Holland. But there are no guarantees that the left-handed rookie is going back to the bullpen when Padilla returns. "Everybody kept saying this is a tough time for McCarthy, but McCarthy has done nothing but keep us in ballgames," Washington said. "It's nice to have options, but he's been keeping us in ballgames, and today he finished one off." McCarthy is now 4-2 after nine starts, the Rangers are 5-4 when he pitches. "My motivating factor is to pitch well," McCarthy said. "Fighting for a spot doesn't enter into it. If I throw well, I'll have a spot. Right now, this staff is competitive so everybody just wants to go out there and do special things. My job is to keep up with everybody else. That's what happens with good clubs, you have to fight to stay up. It's not like in past years, when you can settle for mediocrity."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less