By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Baseball Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Houston starter Luis Garcia and reliever Phil Maton each threw an immaculate inning — nine pitches, three strikeouts — after a big opening offensive outburst for the Astros.
Martín Maldonado, their 35-year-old veteran catcher, was in the middle of it all.
Maldonado had a two-run double in Houston’s six-run first on manager Dusty Baker’s 73rd birthday, later homered and was behind the plate for all the strikeouts — 14 in all — as the AL West leaders wrapped up their seventh consecutive series victory against the Texas Rangers with a 9-2 win Wednesday.
“To be part of that, anytime you make history … I’m glad I was catching in that situation,” Maldonado said, adding he didn’t remember ever being part of an immaculate inning, much less two of them.
“We hadn’t had a first inning inning like that in a long time,” Baker said. “A couple of records, the same guys we struck them out back-to-back-to-back with nine pitches. … So it was a good day for us.”
Garcia (4-5) fanned nine without a walk over six innings while limiting Texas to two runs and four hits. He had a span of five consecutive strikeouts that began with his immaculate second inning — only nine pitches to strike out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller.
Those were the first three batters Maton faced after replacing Garcia to start the seventh. And Maton also recorded a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning.
“We obviously knew they were cruising pretty good,” Miller said. “I wish I would have taken some better swings, and wish they didn’t get it.”
Astros and Rangers officials said it was the first time in MLB history to have two nine-pitch, three-strikeout innings in the same game — either both by one team, or each team recording one.
The only other immaculate inning in the majors this season was by New York Yankees starter Nestor Cortes on April 17 at Baltimore.
When Maton finished off his nine-strike inning throwing only fastballs, neither Garcia or Maldonado initially realized there had been another immaculate inning. The catcher had tossed the ball to third baseman Alex Bregman when he heard people yelling for the ball.
“I was talking to the guys (in the dugout) and then the guys erupted, and I said what happened,” Garcia said.
Both pitchers had baseballs from their immaculate innings, already with authentication stickers, in their lockers after the game.
The only AL West team with a winning record, Houston (39-24) had lost four of five after dropping the series opener. The Astros then won 4-3 on Tuesday night with a four-run rally in the eighth inning, and started the series finale with another big outburst.
The Astros sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning. Fill-in starter Tyson Miller (0-1) was gone after No. 9 batter Maldonado’s double for a 6-0 lead, and the pitcher was sent back to Triple-A Round Rock after the game.
Miller was a replacement call-up from Round Rock when the Rangers put Glenn Otto on the COVID-19-related injured list hours before he was to start a series opener Friday night against the White Sox. Miller threw 2 1/3 innings in relief in Chicago, but got the start against the Astros when Otto’s spot in the rotation came up again.
Houston leadoff man Jose Altuve was hit by Miller’s third pitch of the game, before a single and walk loaded the bases. Yordan Álvarez then hit a two-run double to extend his on-base streak to 16 games and put the Astros ahead to stay.
“Tyson, you could tell was just a little off, wasn’t really commanding the baseball at all. Fell behind, really didn’t really get much swing and miss,” Texas manager Chris Woodard said. “You start down 6-0, it takes the wind out of your sails little bit.”
Maldonado led of the fourth with his fifth homer of the season to make it 7-2. Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run homer in the Astros eighth. … Garcia’s streak of five consecutive strikeouts ended when Corey Seager hit his 13th homer in the third. Garcia then got out of that inning with another strikeout.
The game took only 2 hours, 45 minutes to play — even after the top of the first inning took 29 minutes. … Kyle Tucker, who had an RBI groundout in the first, later had a single to extend his career-best hitting streak to 14 games, the longest active in the majors.
Astros: Rookie SS Jeremy Peña was placed on the 10-day injured list with left thumb discomfort, a day after returning to Houston be evaluated by team doctors. He got hurt when attempting to catch a bloop hit in the series opener Monday.
A three-man umpiring crew worked the game after umpire David Rackley, who was supposed to work the plate, was ruled out due to health and safety protocols. Ryan Blakeney, who had been set to work first base, was behind the plate instead.
Astros: After an off day Thursday, the Astros play a three-game series at home against the Chicago White Sox. Left-hander Framber Valdez (6-3, 2.64 ERA) starts the series opener Friday night. He has recorded nine consecutive quality starts.
Rangers: Martín Pérez (4-2, 2.18) looks to bounce back from a no-decision in which he gave up 12 hits and seven runs, both season highs. Texas opens a four-game series in Detroit on Thursday night.
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