HOUSTON — With the Astros needing him to pitch well, Dallas Keuchel felt no pressure. Rather, he was totally at home.
Keuchel improved his ERA at Minute Maid Park to a remarkable 1.46 in 18 starts, leading Houston past Texas 4-2 Sunday and cutting the Rangers' AL West lead to 2½ games.
"It's honestly something I never really expected because this is a so-called hitter's park, with the dimensions and everything," Keuchel said. "It feels like I am at home here this year. I have steadily improved over the years."
Along with closing in on Texas with a week left in the regular season, the Astros held their lead for the second AL wild-card spot.
Keuchel retired 15 straight after walking Elvis Andrus in the second inning. An AL Cy Young Award candidate, he has allowed two runs over his past two starts after giving up nine in 42/3 innings against Texas on Sept. 16.
"I think I was actually the exact same," Keuchel said. "They were hitting pitches the last start, and they weren't doing that (Sunday). I can't really chalk it up to anything."
Keuchel set a team record for strikeouts by a left-hander in a season when he fanned Mike Napoli in the first. Keuchel has 213 this year; Mike Cuellar fanned 203 in 1967.
"I've seen Dallas pretty good this year," manager A.J. Hinch said. "For him to step up after the first inning when a couple things didn't go his way — he gives up the cheap run, they scratch one across — he was as dominant as he's been the whole game."
Houston also clinched its first winning season since 2008.
"It's definitely nice because nobody likes to lose," Keuchel said. "It doesn't matter if it's professional ranks or college, nobody really likes to lose. We've done a lot of that these last couple of years. The turnaround has been nice. Guys are playing with more confidence; guys are maturing; guys are growing, and that is fun to see."