- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - A.J. Hinch and the Houston Astros left home with a three-game lead in the AL West.

They’re headed back after their longest road trip of the season now chasing the Texas Rangers.

Mitch Moreland put Texas ahead to stay with an early three-run homer, Colby Lewis worked six innings for his 16th victory and the Rangers completed a four-game sweep with an 8-2 victory Thursday night.

“It’s difficult to absorb these losses when we’ve put so much time and energy in,” said Hinch, the Astros’ first-year manager. “Obviously, we feel pretty bad about the way these four games went. It’s nothing that a good win can’t overcome.”

The Astros (77-70) had been alone atop the AL West for 49 consecutive days until losing Tuesday night, the second game at Texas during a series that began with them still leading the division by 1 1/2 games.

After going 2-8 over the 11-day trip, the Astros are now 2 1/2 games behind Texas. They stayed 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota for the second wild card after the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Angels, who are 2 1/2 back with three games in Houston next week.

“We go home, play great at home. We had a really bad road trip, but that’s all it is,” rookie right-hander Lance McCullers said. “We lost a lot of close games. We’re a great team. You chalk it up as that and move on.”

The Astros play Oakland on Friday, the first of nine games on their final homestand of the regular season, which ends Sept. 25-27 against the Rangers. Houston has the AL’s best home record at 48-24.

“There’s nothing really we can do but work on it, be a little more tough-minded and get home in front of our fans and play our brand of baseball that we’ve been accustomed to for five-plus months,” Hinch said.

Texas (79-67) has won 12 of 16 this year against the Astros. The Rangers were trailing by eight games in the division before a three-game sweep of Houston from Aug. 3-5.

And they were ready for maybe their biggest series all season this week.

“I believe that our ballclub was as focused, as determined, as locked in as we could be for a four-game set, and especially where we were,” manager Jeff Banister said.

Moreland’s 21st homer was an opposite-field drive that just cleared the 14-foot wall in left in the third. Shin-Soo Choo had a one-out single and Prince Fielder walked before Moreland made it 3-0 against McCullers (5-6).

Jed Lowrie had a two-out single in the Houston fourth before an RBI double by Evan Gattis. Luis Valbuena’s RBI single closed the Astros to 3-2.

Houston had two runners on in the fifth when Colby Rasmus grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the seventh, Adrian Beltre fielded Jose Altuve’s chopper, stepped on third and threw across the diamond for another big double play. George Springer then struck out to end that inning, stranding a runner at second.

“It was definitely a complete series for us,” Moreland said. “Each game seemed like a complete win. We threw the ball well, we played good defense and created a lot of opportunities on the offense side, and we were able to capitalize.”

Lewis (16-8) allowed two runs and seven hits, adding to his career high for wins.

MOMENT FOR MILO

There was a moment of silence before the game to honor Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who died Thursday at age 88. Hamilton spent 60 seasons broadcasting major league games, and had been with six other teams before going to Houston in 1985. He retired after the 2012 season and had since served as a guest radio commentator for select Astros home games.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: C Jason Castro was back in the lineup after being activated from the disabled list. He missed 16 games with a right quadriceps strain. … Lowrie played for the first time since getting hit by a pitch on the left shin Monday night.

Rangers: OF Josh Hamilton (left knee) hopes to take batting practice on the field Friday, a week after arthroscopic surgery to clean meniscus in his knee. He hopes to maybe pinch-hit by the end of the weekend.

UP NEXT

Astros: Mike Fiers (7-10) is set to start the homestand opener against Oakland.

Rangers: Yovani Gallardo (12-10), who is 9-4 in his last 21 starts, takes the mound in the opener of a three-game series against Seattle.

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