Welcome to the American League.
The Houston Astros may lose 100 games this season, but they weren’t going to lose on Opening Night. Houston got a solid pitching performance from Bud Norris and power from Justin Maxwell and Rick Ankiel in a 8-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park Sunday.
It was the first victory in first-time Houston manager Bo Porter’s career and the 4,000th victory in team history.
“It was outstanding,” Porter said. “It’s a great feat for the organization. But, I’m more excited for the fans in Houston to witness the hard work the 25 men in that locker room have put in this spring. I’m happy for those guys in the clubhouse because they worked extremely hard for this night and it was good to see that hard work pay off.”
Before a sellout crowd of 41,307, the Astros made the most of their move to the American League this season. Bud Norris got the Opening Day nod and lived up to the expectations at the head of this Houston pitching staff.
The right-hander struck out five in 5 2/ 3 innings of work while giving up five hits, two runs and three walks. Norris held the Rangers scoreless through five before faltering in the sixth, when singles by David Murphy and Nelson Cruz made it 4-2 Astros.
“It was exciting,” Norris said. “We’ve made a lot of changes to the organization and to be here through thick and thin has been great. To get that first win for Skip and for these guys here while moving to the American League is a great feeling. We’re excited to keep going. To be sitting at 1-0 right now feels pretty darn good. We’ll go back out on Tuesday and play some more baseball.”
Center fielder Justin Maxwell, in his second year with the club, drove in Houston’s first runs as an American League club. In the bottom of the fourth, Maxwell hit a 1-0 pitch to left field. The ball banged off the top of the scoreboard in left and ricocheted straight up, allowing Maxwell to leg out a triple and score both first baseman Brett Wallace and Pena.
That gave Houston a 2-0 lead. The Astros would not trail in the game. Maxwell finished 2 for 3 with two triples, two RBIs and a walk. He also had a couple of highlight reel-worthy catches to prevent hits.
“Justin Maxwell had a couple highlight plays,” Porter said. “It was fun to watch. A lot of times people get caught up in the numbers (this spring). But, he was fourth on the team on hard-hit balls. Batting average can look one way, but if a guy is putting in quality at-bats, squaring the ball up, from a manager’s standpoint, that’s what we’re looking at. It was great to see Justin perform like he did tonight.”
Carlos Pena, signed to a one-year, $2.9 million contract last winter, became Houston’s first-ever everyday designated hitter when he got the start Sunday, hitting fourth. Pena was 1 for 3 in the game with two strikeouts and a run scored.
Pena was one of a number of low-cost moves Houston made in the offseason that paid off in the team’s home opener.
Another of those signings was Rick Ankiel, who parlayed a non-roster invite to spring training into a spot on Houston’s 25-man roster.
Ankiel didn’t start because the Rangers threw lefty Matt Harrison, but he did have one of the biggest hits the night, crushing an 82-MPH Derek Lowe slider to right field for a three-run, pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the sixth.
After the game, Ankiel talked about what he was thinking about as he rounded the bases.
“I’ve always said pitching and hitting home runs are the pinnacle of baseball,” Ankiel said. “What a moment. It’s something I’ll never forget. I hit it high, but to myself, I was like, ‘I got that.’ It was indescribable. It’s a rollercoaster and a high that you don’t want to end. I’ll never forget it.”
Erik Bedard was also a non-roster invitee who earned a spot in the Houston rotation. Since he’s the fifth starter and isn’t scheduled to pitch until April 7 at the earliest. However, Houston was able to use him out of the bullpen on Sunday and Bedard responded by throwing 3 1/3 shutout innings of relief while striking out two and allowing one hit.
Houston and Texas have Monday off before resuming the series on Tuesday. Lucas Harrell is scheduled to start for Houston with Yu Darvish going for the Rangers.