Martin Perez did all he could trying to salvage the rubber game against the Houston Astros Sunday, but unfortunately Dallas Keuchel's start was better in the 4-2 Texas Rangers' loss.

Perez, who pitched six innings, gave up two runs with none being earned, while striking out six and walking one batter.

"I thought he had some really good competing moments through the ballgame to work his way out of some different situations," manager Jeff Banister said.

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Keuchel, on the other hand, dazzled striking out 10, giving up just one run and two hits in seven innings. With the win, the Astros starter improved to 15-0 at Minute Maid Park this season.

"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 home here this year. I have steadily improved over the years."

Even facing Keuchel's lofty credentials at home, the Rangers managed to strike first in the first inning once again as Prince Fielder's RBI groundout scoring Shin-Soo Choo. By the end of the second inning, Texas hitters forced Keuchel to a high pitch count of 49 pitches, looking as if his outing would be cut short.

The Rangers weren't so fortunate as the Astros ace settled in the third, backed by a Jake Marisnick two-RBI double off Perez in the bottom of the second, retiring 15 straight Rangers until a Mike Napoli single in the seventh inning.

"Our inability to put runs on the board also, that was a challenge," Banister said. "We knew it was going to be tough. Dallas Keuchel is a solid pitcher. You give him nice strike zone, and he can be a challenge."

The Rangers have caused problems for the Astros all season, going 13-5 against Houston before Sunday's game. Despite the lop-sided win-loss record against the team, the Astros taking two in a series win over the weekend brings them only 2.5 games behind Texas in the American League West with seven games remaining for the Rangers — all of which will be played in Arlington.

With Houston hoping to turn around an underwhelming month of September in pursuit of retaking the top place in the AL West, the Rangers aren't planning to let off the gas pedal for the final week of the regular season.

"Safe? There's nothing safe in baseball," Banister said. "You've got to continue to play. It's about competing. These guys, they've never taken that approach. We've been playing from behind all year long.

"We've worked way too hard to get to this point to think that anything is safe. We know this club's not going to lay down. That's not a fair assessment. I think more than anything else, this is a ball club that knows grind, knows how to compete, and they're going to go out and compete."

Follow Shawn Ramsey on Twitter: @ShawnPRamsey

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