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HOU@TB: Fowler homers on the first pitch of the game

ST. PETERSBURG -- Dallas Keuchel gave the Astros everything he had for eight gritty innings Sunday afternoon, battling tooth and nail to help his team snap out of its funk.

Though Keuchel threw his third complete game of the season, the breaks worked against him in the series finale against the Rays, who scored three times in the sixth inning to take the lead and send the Astros to their sixth loss in seven games, 5-2, at Tropicana Field.

"This game can be pretty ruthless sometimes," Keuchel said.

Keuchel (8-5) lost his second consecutive start after allowing five runs, nine hits and four walks in eight innings. He threw 111 pitches, which are his most since tossing a season-high 128 pitches on May 19 at Anaheim.

"Dallas Keuchel did a tremendous job of battling," manager Bo Porter said. "I felt like there were some critical breakpoint defensive plays that if we play a little bit better overall, he would have fared better and the game would have been a different outcome."

The sixth inning proved to be troublesome for Keuchel, who allowed the Rays to load the bases with no outs on a walk, a bunt single and single to right field.

Keuchel struck out Jerry Sands before Yunel Escobar shot a two-run single just past Jesus Guzman at first base to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. Sean Rodriguez drove in the fourth run when he beat out a double play grounder that would have ended the inning.

"The double play that ended up not being turned, the ball that goes right past Guzman … it's one inch the other way, he fields the ball and throws the ball to the plate and it's a different outcome," Porter said. "Baseball is a game of inches. You get in those breakpoint situations, if those plays go your way, you're in a much better position to win the game."

Keuchel has walked four batters in each of his past two starts. He had walked only seven batters in his past seven starts before that. He also hit two batters on sliders Sunday.

Keuchel appreciated Porter's showing enough trust him in him to let him finish the game, which helped the Astros' tired bullpen. Keuchel loaded the bases with one out in the eighth and gave up a sac fly to Rodriguez that made it 5-2, and George Springer threw out Evan Longoria at the plate to end the inning.

"The bullpen was kind of taxed, but at the same time I think he understood that with the amount of ground balls I was getting and early contact that I had a pretty good shot of getting out of the inning," Keuchel said. "That meant he had a lot of confidence in me, and I appreciate that."

Dexter Fowler ended his 0-for-12 hitless string by clubbing a homer to left field on the first pitch of the game thrown by Rays starter Erik Bedard, who spent last season with the Astros. Keuchel walked a batter and hit a batter after one out in the first, and Longoria made his pay with a tying single.

"We did some good things today against a tough pitcher," said Longoria, who went 3-for-4. "Keuchel's been throwing the ball really well, and I think we proved something to ourselves as a team. We've kind of being getting it put to us against good lefties, so with the lineup today, we took good at-bats and got hits when we needed them."

Porter used a replay challenge to get the Astros a run in the third. Jonathan Villar led off the inning with a double and was originally called out while trying to steal third. Porter challenged the play, and umpires overturned the call. Villar scored moments later on a single by Jose Altuve -- Altuve's 103rd hit -- to put the Astros ahead, 2-1.

Since banging out 14 hits on Tuesday, the Astros are hitting .160 (25-for-156) in their past five games with 59 strikeouts, including eight at the hands of Bedard.

"We are attacking hittable pitches," Porter said. "I think a lot of times we're getting good pitches to hit early in the count and fouling them out, and it puts yourself in position where you're hitting the pitcher's pitch late in the count." Comments