HOUSTON -- An overnight flight following an emotional two games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers had the Astros caught in rush-hour traffic early Thursday morning, which manager Dusty Baker lamented wasn’t the most ideal circumstances for his team.
The bleary-eyed Astros, who arrived in Houston around 7 a.m. CT, appeared to sleepwalk through the first half of a 5-3 loss to the Twins 12 hours later at Minute Maid Park, managing just one hit and one walk in the first five innings before their bats finally woke up, though not enough to finish a late comeback attempt after the Twins built an early lead against Framber Valdez with four runs in the second inning.
“I don’t know if we ever woke up tonight,” Baker said. “But that’s a part of the price of being a pro. You have to deal with these things, and you have to deal with the schedule. You can’t make any excuses, even though you probably have them. You just can’t use it.”
Twins rookie starter Griffin Jax, who came into the game with a 6.41 ERA, breezed through four innings on only 57 pitches, with 11 of the first 14 batters he faced seeing five pitches or fewer. It wasn’t until Jason Castro’s solo homer in the sixth -- which broke an 0-for-18 slump -- and Chas McCormick’s double one out later that Houston’s offense showed life.
“I think our bats were a little slow today, and [Jax] kind of filled up the strike zone and made it tough for us,” McCormick said. “He worked kind of fast. He pitched a solid ballgame. I thought we started to get to him the third time around the order, but he pitched a solid ballgame, so you’ve got to give him that.”
Because of Thursday’s early arrival, Baker didn’t require his players to be at the park until 4 p.m. and they didn’t take batting practice on the field. He also rested starting shortstop Carlos Correa. And with Yuli Gurriel (neck) and Alex Bregman (out since June 16 with a quad strain) also out, Houston’s lineup was thinned.
Still, the Astros made the Twins squirm in the ninth when Yordan Alvarez blasted a two-run homer to cut the lead to 5-3. Martín Maldonado, who was starting at first base for the first time since 2014, came to the plate as the tying run, but he lined out to end the game against Alex Colomé.
“We can carry that momentum into tomorrow,” said McCormick. “Obviously at the beginning of the game, we started off a little slow and we got home at 7 in the morning and were very tired. We did start to put together some better at-bats at the end of the game. We saw a couple of bullpen arms, and I think that’s going to help us throughout the series.”
Even as the Astros were rallying in the ninth, Baker said he wanted to refrain from using Correa, who had started 17 games in a row. He hasn’t been shy about giving his players rest when he feels it’s appropriate.
“The guy’s been playing every inning since he got back from the illness [that sidelined him just prior to the All-Star break],” Baker said. “He was struggling there for a while. He had been swinging better and you’re risking injury when a guy is completely fatigued. I wanted to stay away from him. I was hoping that we get a big lead and we didn’t even have to consider it.”