Pitching change backfires on Rangers in opener
Ankiel homer off Lowe in veteran righty's Texas debut breaks game open
HOUSTON -- Starter Matt Harrison, trailing by two runs in the bottom of the sixth of the Rangers' 8-2 loss in the season's opening game on Sunday, walked the Astros' Justin Maxwell with one out. He retired Jason Castro on a fly to center for the second out but then walked Matt Dominguez.
That was enough for manager Ron Washington. With right-handed hitter Brandon Barnes coming to the plate, he decided to bring in right-hander Derek Lowe.
"I thought Harrison had gone as far as he could," Washington said. "He had 100 pitches. He had gone as far as he needed to go. I was hoping Lowe could throw his sinker and get a ground ball."
Lowe didn't face Barnes. First-year Astros manager Bo Porter sent up Rick Ankiel, a left-handed hitter, to face Lowe, who was making his Rangers debut. Ankiel was 4-for-10 with two home runs against Lowe in his career prior to the at-bat.
"History shows he gives me fits," Lowe said. "A 3-2 pitch, I was trying to throw more further inside with a right-hander up next. I was trying to stay inside the whole time. It was the third breaking ball he had seen. I've got to make a better pitch."
Instead Lowe left where Ankiel could do something with it.
"He threw that breaking ball right into his bat," Washington said.
Ankiel hit it over the right-field wall for a three-run home run that broke the game open for the Astros.
"Unbelievable," Ankiel said. "I've always said pinch-hitting and hitting home runs are the pinnacle of baseball. To come out and start the season like that ... what a moment. It was something I'll never forget and I'm excited."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.