HOUSTON -- Alex Rios noticed during the Rangers' pregame stretching that his new teammates were having a great time, laughing and joking around. He asked catcher Geovany Soto if the Rangers were often like that.
"Every single night," Soto told him.
The Rangers certainly know how to have fun and they may be having more fun than any team in the American League right now. Rios had no trouble joining in the jocularity, delivering a pivotal triple in a two-run eighth inning that helped lift the Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Astros on Saturday night.
"I'm more than certain he wanted to come in here and have a good game and he did," manager Ron Washington said. "But it isn't anything he hasn't done in his career, so it's not surprising."
The Rangers trailed 3-1 with nine outs to go before another late-inning rally against the Astros' beleaguered bullpen, and they are back in first place in the AL West. The Rangers have won 11 of their last 12 games and are one game ahead of the Athletics in the AL West. They are 35-14 against AL West opponents, including 9-2 against the Astros.
"It has been a fun ride," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who had a home run and a double. "We're playing well. We were playing so bad, it was tough. A lot of guys were frustrated and a lot of guys weren't where they needed to be. But we had a nice meeting in Cleveland, we got some things out in the open and we're just trying to have fun. We lost that feeling, and you've got to have that feeling. That allows your talent to come out rather than trying to force it."
Elvis Andrus had some fun for the Rangers on Saturday after a terrible start. He struck out in his first three at-bats before hitting a huge game-tying two-run home run in the seventh. It was his first home run of the season. Rios was 2-for-3 and also ended up scoring the go-ahead run on a crucial play at the plate in the eighth.
"It's big," Rios said of his first game with the Rangers. "It gives me a little bit of confidence and motivation. Everybody in this clubhouse wants to win. Any way any of us can contribute is a big thing. It's a big thing for me."
The Ranger trailed 4-3 going into the eighth. Pierzynski, who hit a home run in the sixth, got the Rangers started with one out with an opposite-field double high off the left-field wall. After Engel Beltre pinch-ran for him, Rios hit a line drive to center. Astros center fielder Brandon Barnes tried to make a diving catch and missed completely. Beltre scored and Rios raced around to third.
The Astros then brought the infield in for Mitch Moreland, and when he hit a high chopper to second baseman Jose Altuve, Rios broke for home on contact. Altuve made an accurate throw, but Rios slid in hard and knocked the ball loose from catcher Jason Castro.
"He ran down the line like a train," Washington said.
"It was a good play, [Castro] caught the ball and put the tag on him, but just the momentum of the contact dislodged the ball," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Good slide by their guy. Everything clean about it. We were just not able to hold onto the ball."
It was the second of two comebacks for the Rangers. The Astros got three runs off of Derek Holland, who went six innings while allowing six hits, two walks and striking out six. He ended up with a no-decision and has just one win in five starts since the All-Star break.
"I didn't have the best of my stuff, but I made the best of it," Holland said. "When it came down to it, I made my pitches."
Astros pitcher Brad Peacock was terrific for six innings. The Rangers' only run off him came on Pierzynski's home run, and he left the game with a 3-1 lead. But the Astros' bullpen ended up blowing another game.
Left-hander Kevin Chapman took over in the seventh, and the Rangers got a break when Astros shortstop Jake Elmore fumbled Jurickson Profar's routine grounder for an error. Chapman retired the next two hitters, but Andrus hit a 1-2 slider over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. He then returned to an appropriately raucous celebration in the dugout after his first homer since Sept. 4, 2012. A couple innings earlier Andrus was almost ejected from the game by home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi for arguing a called third strike.
"It's awesome, especially in that at-bat," Andrus said. "That was the last thing I was looking for. I was trying to actually make contact and not have a four-strikeout night. I just reacted to the ball. [He] threw me the same pitch and I stayed inside the ball."
The Astros got one in the seventh off reliever Jason Frasor's wild pitch, but he still ended up getting the win after the Rangers rallied in the eighth. Joakim Soria struck out Barnes with two on and two out in the eighth to get out of a jam, and Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth for his 34th save.
Just another fun night at the ballpark for the Rangers, and now Rios is a part of it.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.