With improvements across the board becoming increasingly evident, the Houston Astros are displaying signs that they might be gritty enough to avoid a third consecutive 100-loss season.
For a second consecutive game, the Houston bullpen protected a tenuous one-run lead and put the finishing touches on a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
Astros closer Jose Veras posted his 13th save with a scoreless ninth inning, complementing the handiwork of relievers Paul Clemens, Wesley Wright and Hector Ambriz in support of right-hander Lucas Harrell.
The final out was recorded in unusual fashion, with Veras picking off pinch-runner Jordan Danks at second base to complete the victory.
"I told him (second-base umpire Dana DeMuth) I knew it was close. I'm not saying it wasn't close," Danks said. "But I didn't think it was close enough to end the game that way. But what are you going to do about it?"
On Friday night, Houston's Jose Cisnero, Travis Blackley and Veras combined for three scoreless innings and closed out a 2-1 win in the series opener.
The Astros (25-44) logged their third consecutive come-from-behind victory and Chicago (28-37) lost for the 11th time in 12 road games. The White Sox have been outscored 66-37 in those games.
"They are hard (to get) anywhere right now, so it doesn't matter where we are at," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "We have to focus on winning games -- it doesn't matter if we're home or in Europe. We've got to win games."
Harrell (5-7) entered his third start of the month amid a torrid stretch, having allowed just one earned run in 14 innings in June. But Chicago struck for a run in the first inning when Alexi Ramirez singled, stole second base and scored when Paul Konerko laced a two-out single to center field.
Harrell quickly recovered, retiring 11 consecutive batters, including a flyout by Connor Gillaspie to end the first inning.
When Gordon Beckham broke through in the fifth for a one-out single, Harrell responded by getting Tyler Flowers to roll into a double play.
Harrell retired the side in order in the sixth before faltering in the seventh, starting with an opposite-field home run to left by Adam Dunn, his 18th homer of the season. Gillaspie added a single and Beckham a two-out, RBI double before Flowers chased Harrell with an infield base hit. Clemens snuffed the rally with a strikeout of Alejandro De Aza.
"There's some things I need to work on," Harrell said. "Late in the game, I need to close it out. I hung a couple of pitches there that last inning and gave up some hits. Especially against a team like that, I don't want to give up any runs."
Aggressive base running and flashes of power enabled the Astros to build a three-run cushion, with Carlos Pena and Matt Dominguez both scoring from first base on doubles from Ronny Cedeno and Brandon Barnes in the second and fifth innings, respectively. Keen base running had played a pivotal role in the Astros' two-run fifth inning on Friday night.
"They've done a great job all year," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "You look at Carlos Pena, double to the gap, no wasted motion, great route around the bases. Dominguez on the hit-and-run in motion, picking up the third-base coach and attacking the bag all the way around and he's able to score.
"Just a tremendous job of attention to detail throughout the entire ballgame by the whole club."
In the fourth, Houston catcher Jason Castro belted his first career home run against a left-handed pitcher, taking Chicago starter John Danks (1-3) into the home bullpen in right center. Chris Carter added his 14th homer two batters later, a blast down the left-field line for a 3-1 lead.
NOTES: With his ninth home run of the season, Castro eclipsed his career total of eight homers. Also, the homer was the first of his career against a left-handed pitcher. ... The White Sox posted their ninth game of two or more errors on Friday night, and their .981 fielding percentage entering Saturday ranked 13th in the American League. Last season. Chicago led the majors with a franchise-best .988 fielding percentage.