Collin McHugh indicated he wasn't trying to hit Carlos Gomez with a pitch.
Gomez, his former Houston Astros teammate, felt otherwise.
The one certainty Monday night was that the AL West champion Astros won 11-2, clinching the season series over the Texas Rangers while delivering a virtual knockout blow to their in-state rival's chances of getting into the playoffs.
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Batting immediately after Joey Gallo's 39th homer for Texas in the second inning, Gomez took the first pitch high and tight before changing bats. He was then quick-pitched, fouling it off before glaring at McHugh and taking several steps toward the mound. The benches and bullpens emptied, though no punches were thrown.
"I asked him what the issue was and he said, 'Yeah, I got a problem with you.' And everybody else was out there by that point in time," McHugh said. "The game goes on. I don't want to spend any more mental effort thinking about Carlos Gomez. It is what it is."
Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs for the Astros (96-60), now within two games of AL Central champion Cleveland for the best record in the league. The Indians own the tiebreaker for home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs if they finish with the same record.
Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth when only one run was earned. Gonzalez had a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11), then two innings later hit his 23rd homer.
Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the AL leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.
"He immediately knew that it wasn't broken. He was coming out of the game anyway," manager A.J. Hinch said. "It was unfortunate that he got hit."
Texas (76-80), division champs the past two years, had an early 2-0 lead before losing its fourth straight game. The Rangers dropped six games behind idle Minnesota for the second American League wild card with six to play.
Gomez has been hit by pitches an AL-high 19 times this season, including by McHugh in a game last month.
McHugh was on the disabled list in early May when he had a heated exchange of words with Gomez, who had to be restrained from Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. after a pitch thrown behind Mike Napoli's head.
"It's always going to be I am the troublemaker. I'm always going to get blamed," Gomez said. "The truth is I got told by one of the people who work for them that he was going to hit me. So, last time I faced him he hit me right away. No one said anything about that, but I react to something, I'm the troublemaker. How am I supposed to react?"
When they were still teammates last season, McHugh responded on the mound with an obscenity after Gomez lost a fly ball while playing center field and it went over his head.
McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros.
And His ERA Went Down
Cashner's ERA actually dropped — from 3.44 to 3.42 — after becoming the first Rangers pitcher since knuckleballer Charlie Hough in 1987 to allow seven unearned runs, and the third pitcher in the majors this season. There were no Rangers errors in the game when Hough gave up seven unearned runs, but instead six passed balls by catcher Geno Petralli.
The Astros' fourth inning included four hits — two each by Gonzalez and Evan Gattis, who had a two-run double — and was helped by two walks, a hit batter and two errors with two outs.
Rangers: Manager Jeff Banister rejoined the team after missing the previous two games to be with his mother in the Houston area after she experienced some complications following surgery. "She made it evident that it was necessary for me to come back here," Banister said.
Astros: OF Josh Reddick, who has been dealing with a sore back, was out of the lineup for the second time in three games. Houston manager A.J. Hinch said Reddick is fine but probably won't play Tuesday.
Dallas Keuchel and Cole Hamels, left-handed aces who have both missed more than 50 games this season, pitch the middle game of the series. Keuchel (13-5) is making his 12th start since missing 53 games during two DL stints (pinched nerve in back, neck discomfort). Hamels (11-4) missed 51 games because of a right oblique strain.