HOUSTON -- Martin Perez retired the last batter on a grounder back to the mound. He casually flipped the ball to first for the final out, then walked behind the mound to relax and start shaking hands with his infielders.
He forgot one thing. Perez left his catcher standing there in front of home plate waiting for the traditional postgame handshake and hug.
"He's young," catcher Geovany Soto said. "He's going to learn. I grabbed him by the ear firmly so he'll remember."
Perez can be forgiven because it was a first for him at the Major League level. He held the Astros to four hits and two walks while striking out eight in pitching his first complete game in a 6-1 victory on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
"What a performance," manager Ron Washington said. "He was in control the whole game."
The Rangers have won a season-high seven straight games and 12 of their last 13. They are 10-2 against the Astros this season, meaning they are holding on to the Silver Boot Trophy for the seventh straight year. They also are still one game up on the Athletics in the American League West.
"Ride the wave," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Just play hard every day and come to win. That's it. ... The confidence level of everyone on the club, we all understand it's not one person, it's a collective group. It seems like we have a chance to score every inning. That's comforting."
Perez came within one strike of throwing a shutout. With two outs in the ninth, he was ahead 1-2 in the count before Chris Carter blasted a home run to left. But Matt Dominguez grounded out to end the game.
"The home run didn't bother me," Perez said. "I missed a pitch up high. The most important thing is we won."
Perez didn't miss with many pitches in his 17th Major League start, and he is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last three starts. Overall, he is 5-3 with a 3.44 ERA after 11 starts.
"I just go to the mound thinking I'm the best," Perez said. "I have the ball, so I just take the ball and throw the pitch that Geo called. The first three innings they were swinging at everything. After that they started waiting, and when that happens, you need to attack. That's what I did, attack the zone and throw all my pitches. Geo was amazing calling pitches."
The only real troubling moment came in the fifth inning when he walked and hit a batter, putting two on with two outs. Washington went to the mound to settle him down, and Perez needed just one well-placed fastball to get Jake Elmore to hit an inning-ending grounder.
"He executed really well," Soto said. "He threw his changeup well, his fastball was there, he was more aggressive and more attacking. When he needed to throw a strike, like to start off an inning, he did it. He used all his pitches today and used them well."
Perez only needed 95 pitches to get through the first eight innings, and Astros manager Bo Porter felt his team was too aggressive at the plate.
"I definitely think we were overaggressive," Porter said. "When you have a guy working at the pace he was working, it would be a good idea to slow it down and make him throw a little bit more pitches and get the pace of the game in your favor. But it felt like the more outs he recorded, the quicker our at-bats got."
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel didn't pitch badly either. He retired the first 13 batters he faced before the Rangers broke through in the fifth. Alex Rios, who had his second straight two-hit game for the Rangers, reached with one out by beating out a ground ball to shortstop Elmore. Jeff Baker then singled through the left-side hole, and Soto blasted a ground-rule double to deep center field to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers added another run in the sixth after Elvis Andrus reached on a one-out throwing error by Elmore. Ian Kinsler flied out, but Adrian Beltre singled and Rios doubled to right to bring home Andrus.
The Rangers led 2-0 going into the top of the ninth, and Washington had Joe Nathan warming up in the bullpen. Washington was going to bring in his closer if the score stayed that way.
"They told me if we scored more runs, I was going back out there," Perez said. "So I was thinking, 'Let's keep scoring.'"
The Rangers did just that. They loaded the bases with two outs against Keuchel, and Jurickson Profar grounded a single through the right side to score two runs. Right fielder L.J. Hoes' throwing error brought home another run, and then Leonys Martin singled to left to drive home Profar to make it 6-0.
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.