ARLINGTON -- Lance McCullers Jr.'s first start in June wasn't quite what he showed in May, but the Astros were still able to run their winning streak to nine straight with a 6-5 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Park on Saturday night.
McCullers, the American League Pitcher of the Month for May, was staked to a 5-1 lead before being knocked out in the fifth after allowing three runs, but five Astros relievers delivered 4 2/3 scoreless innings behind him.
"None of these are easy. It may look easy when we score double-digit runs, but we're going to have to win games like this," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "We jumped out ahead, we put a lot of pressure on them, we had somebody on base every single inning. Our calling card is that we're always going to put pressure on guys, and when we needed to make pitches, we made pitches in a close game."
Rangers starter Andrew Cashner had just one bad stretch, and it came in the third inning, when six straight batters reached base with one out to send home four runs. Carlos Beltran hit a two-run single that inning to go with his home run in the second.
"I thought Cash threw the ball well," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "There were three ground balls that inning that got through. I don't think that inning was indicative of four runs. He stayed focused, stayed engaged and competed well."
The Astros are now 40-16 with the best record in the Major Leagues and their best start after 56 games in club history. The previous best was 34-22. The Astros have also won their last nine straight road games, the second-longest streak in club history.
The Rangers have lost 10 of their last 13 after their own 10-game winning streak ended. They are now 14 games behind the Astros in the American League West.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Long single sets up rally: The Astros, with the score 1-1, started a four-run third inning with a one-out single by George Springer and a walk to Josh Reddick. Jose Altuve followed with a drive to deep right-center. Center fielder Jared Hoying raced back and seemed to have a chance, only to pull up at the last second. Springer, tagging on the play, ended up at third, and Altuve was left with a single to load the bases. Carlos Correa followed with an RBI single to left, Beltran drove in two more with a base hit to right and a fourth run scored on a wild pitch before the inning was over.
"It was tough," Cashner said. "I was trying to go up to Altuve with two guys on. I should have gone a little higher. The four [ground-ball] singles are kind of what killed me. For me it's just about executing my pitch, and once the ball leaves my hand, it's kind of out of my control. I thought I got the result I wanted. I just didn't get the end result. I'm not really too down. ... I was one pitch away the whole inning from getting out of it, and it just didn't happen to go that way."
Rangers' rallies cut short: The Rangers drove McCullers from the game with a three-run fifth, but they missed out on a bigger inning. Springer made a belly-flop catch of Shin-Soo Choo's fly ball to right-center, and reliever Chris Devenski, entering with two on and one out, struck out Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy to end the threat. The Rangers then looked like they were in business in the seventh after Elvis Andrus singled and Adrian Beltre got on. But with one out, Hinch replaced Luke Gregerson with Will Harris, and Harris struck out both Odor and Lucroy to preserve the Astros' one-run lead. More >
"That's one of the reasons why they're where they are right now. They have a really good bullpen, and there's never an easy at-bat. You have to tip your cap when they're making tough pitches." -- Andrus, on the Astros' bullpen
"He brings the best out of you. He's a Hall of Famer, for sure. He's one of the best to ever play the hot corner. It's a privilege to be able to play against guys like that. I thought I had him. I thought I punched him on the 2-2 before he got the hit, but that's neither here nor there." -- McCullers, on facing Beltre
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Odor left six runners on base while going 1-for-5 with four strikeouts. He leads the American League in runners left on base this season, with 107.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Brad Peacock makes his third start of the season in Sunday's series finale at 2:05 p.m. CT. He is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA this year, and has thrown eight strikeouts in each of his two starts.
Rangers: Left-hander Martin Perez pitches against the Astros on Sunday at Globe Life Park. Perez is 5-3 with a 2.49 ERA in nine career starts against Houston.