MINNEAPOLIS -- As the hits started to finally fall and the Astros were slowly creeping back from an early seven-run deficit Wednesday afternoon, thoughts of their memorable comeback against the Twins at Target Field last May crept into the visitors' dugout.
That notion was so palpable that third baseman Alex Bregman told manager AJ Hinch that he felt something special was going to happen.The Astros rallied to tie the game in the ninth inning before Max Kepler hit a two-out, walk-off homer off Brad Peacock to send the Twins to a 9-8 win in the series finale.
"When we got down, 8-1, I told AJ in the dugout, I said, 'There's something about this field. I don't feel like we're ever out it,' and sure enough we came back and tied it," said Bregman, who went 4-for-6. "That's what our team is all about. We're going to keep fighting and competing every pitch."
• Bregman logs first career 4-hit game
The Astros, who rallied from 8-2 down behind an 11-run inning to beat the Twins last May at Target Field, watched the Twins score eight runs in the fourth inning on Wednesday. Starting pitcher Lance McCullers was on the hook for all the damage after allowing seven hits in 3 2/3 innings, but it was six walks that derailed him the most.
All three batters he walked in the fourth wound up scoring, including Kepler and Byron Buxton to start the inning. Kepler's two-run homer made it 8-1 and ended McCullers' outing at career-high eight earned runs allowed.
"It all goes back to those two walks, and I tried to minimize the damage to do what I could to get out of it and it didn't work out that way," McCullers said.
In the fifth, the Astros strung together six consecutive hits against Twins starter Kyle Gibson and reliever Trevor Hildenberger, scoring four times to cut the lead to 8-5. Twins reliever Addison Reed escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh by striking out Marwin Gonzalez and getting George Springer to fly out, but the Astros scored twice in the ninth off Fernando Rodney to tie the game at 8.
"There was a lot in that game that could have gone a little bit better for us," Hinch said. "I'm proud of the way we fought back, and they hung in there, too, and they came back from a tough blow losing an 8-1 lead. Weird game all the way around. For them to win on one big swing is frustrating."
Astros relievers Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Hector Rondon and Peacock had combined to retire 14 batters in a row before Peacock hung a slider and watched Kepler hit it 404 feet into the right-field seats for his second homer of the game.
"We're never out of a game," Peacock said. "Special lineup and special team and I'm glad to see the bats get going today. They did a great job on the comeback. Kind of sucks [that] I kind of blew it. It happens. It's baseball. Just got to get them the next day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Reed escapes trouble: The Astros had a chance to draw even in the seventh after lefty reliever Zach Duke walked two batters and hit another one to load the bases. Enter Reed, who bailed the Twins out, fanning pinch-hitter Gonzalez swinging and inducing Springer to fly out to left field to leave all three runners stranded. The Astros stranded a season-high 12 on base.
"When we have runners in scoring position or we have guys on base -- we left a ton of guys on base, which is a storyline -- we keep giving ourselves an opportunity with the swings we can put up there, we're going to score a ton of runs," Hinch said.
Don't walk this way: McCullers tied a career high with six walks, but he lamented the free passes he gave Kepler and Buxton to start the Twins' eight-run fourth inning. Astros pitchers have walked a season-high seven batters in each of the last two games.
"In the fourth, it was all me," McCullers said. "In the fourth, I threw 10 uncompetitive pitches in a row. That's what bothers me the most. Not walks when I got guys up that could do damage or walks when I'm in the zone and try to make pitches. It's not competitive, eight, nine, 10 pitches in a row that stick with me."
"I'm going to take the ball 29 more times for this team. I feel great. My back's in great place, my arm's in a great place. My head is fine. I just have to make better pitches when it counts. I will." -- McCullers
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Jose Altuve's single in the fifth inning extended his hitting streak at Target Field to 17 games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest hitting streak by a visiting player at the stadium.
Astros: Right-hander Gerrit Cole (1-0, 0.64 ERA), who has struck out 11 batters in each of his first two starts, opens a three-game series Friday against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park at 7:10 p.m. CT. First baseman Yuli Gurriel is expected to be in the lineup for the first time this season after being activated from the disabled list.
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