Elvis finally leaves the building

HOUSTON -- Elvis Andrus' first home run in 558 at-bats had it all: a called shot by a teammate, a bat flip and a dance. Oh, and it came at an important time, too.

Andrus delivered his first home run of the season for the Texas Rangers on Saturday night, a two-run shot that tied Houston 3-all in the top of the seventh. The Rangers went on to beat the Astros 5-4 to move into first place all alone in the American League West.

Andrus' home run was unexpected for many reasons. Forget the drought. He had struck out three times before his homer, the last time a called strike three by umpire Phil Cuzzi that the Rangers shortstop protested.

So Andrus was extra engaged when he batted with two outs in the top of the seventh. Astros reliever Lucas Harrell threw him a slider, and Andrus cranked the offering 363 feet into the left-field seats at Minute Maid Park. For a right-handed hitter, it doesn't get any more inviting than the Crawford Boxes in left field in Houston.

"The situation was amazing," Andrus said. "Trying to play every inning, trying to help the team as much as you can. It was huge, beside the homer, it was huge to be able to tie the game and give us the opportunity to win the game like we did."

Andrus' homer was a called shot. Second baseman Ian Kinsler had discussed with hitting coach Dave Magadan on Friday the possibility of Andrus ending his homer drought in Houston. Kinsler repeated those words as Andrus was striding up to the plate.

"He's going to hit it right here," Kinsler said to Magadan. "If he's going to hit it anywhere, it's going to be here."

Andrus hadn't hit a home run since Sept. 4, 2012, at Kansas City. That stretch included 452 at-bats to start this season. That was the most at-bats by any major league player without a home run. So Andrus welcomed the home run call.

"Hopefully that will happen a little more often," he said.

Andrus' home run came with a bat flip reserved for sluggers such as Boston's David Ortiz. Andrus said he was just enjoying the moment.

"I was little bit upset the whole game," Andrus said. "Three strikeouts and a close call, fighting with the umpires. It was like a release. Finally I hit it. It was a pretty great moment."

The reaction in the dugout after Andrus circled the bases came with some laughs, too.

"[Adrian] Beltre did a dance," Andrus said. "The other guys were a little amazed."

The Rangers have won 11 of 12 games and have picked up seven games in the standings on Oakland, winning many of the games in dramatic fashion. Texas is 67-50, its best record of the season.

This hot stretch started with three walk-off home runs against the Angels the last three days of July. The Rangers have trailed entering the eighth inning in both games in Houston and have won both. They are 4-41 when trailing after seven innings.

They have showed a flair for the dramatic. Andrus, who struggled during the first half of the season but has flourished after the All-Star break, is the latest to come through in the clutch.

"That was one of the biggest hits of the season," manager Ron Washington said.

For Andrus, and for the Rangers.