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Springer, Astros spoil Ohtani's return

Two-run shot leads to third-inning exit for Angels phenom
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Shortly after hammering a two-run homer in the third inning on Sunday night, Astros outfielder George Springer -- wearing a microphone for the ESPN broadcast -- was heard in the home dugout telling his teammates to take advantage of Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani's drastically diminishing velocity.

Ohtani, making his first start on the mound in nearly three months, threw only four more pitches after the third-inning homer before being removed, but Springer's blast wound up being the difference in the Astros' 4-2 win over the Angels at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- Shortly after hammering a two-run homer in the third inning on Sunday night, Astros outfielder George Springer -- wearing a microphone for the ESPN broadcast -- was heard in the home dugout telling his teammates to take advantage of Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani's drastically diminishing velocity.

Ohtani, making his first start on the mound in nearly three months, threw only four more pitches after the third-inning homer before being removed, but Springer's blast wound up being the difference in the Astros' 4-2 win over the Angels at Minute Maid Park.

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"The velocity drop was probably obvious," said Springer, who turned on a slider and sent into the Crawford Boxes in left field to score Tony Kemp, who had walked after looking at fastballs of 88.9, 90.2 and 91.9 mph. "He was 98, 99 and when [the velocity drop] is that obvious, I hope he's OK."

Ohtani's velocity dip in return not elbow-related

Video: LAA@HOU: Springer gets mic'd up during the game

The win kept the first-place Astros 2 1/2 games ahead of the Oakland A's in the American League West.

Springer reached 20 homers for the fourth season in his career, and Alex Bregman clubbed his team-leading 27th homer in the seventh inning, giving the Astros a 4-2 lead. He flied out in his only at-bat vs. Ohtani, but singled in the fifth to extend his on-base streak to a Major League-high 30 games.

"He's an elite arm," Bregman said of Ohtani. "I think the beginning of the game, he was letting it eat a little bit. The pitch he threw me was 97 with some hop, and I hit under it and missed it. Later on in the game, when he was in the third inning, he was taking a little bit off his fastball, I think, and all his stuff was a few miles an hour slower than it was normally, and Springer put a good swing on it."

Video: LAA@HOU: Bregman belts a solo home run to left

Ohtani, making his first start since June 6, was on a pitch count and was pulled after 2 1/3 innings and 49 pitches. Springer's homer off him in the third put the Astros ahead, 2-0, and Carlos Correa drew a bases-loaded walk off reliever Odrisamer Despaigne in the fifth for a 3-1 lead.

Springer went 3-for-5, falling a triple shy of the cycle in his first three-hit game since June 1.

"He's been teetering on that little bit over the last couple of weeks," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Every hitter needs to feel a little bit of success no matter the work he's putting in. … Tonight, he put it all together and did a nice job at the top of the lineup."

Video: LAA@HOU: Hinch on Springer's monster game in 4-2 win

Astros starter Gerrit Cole (13-5) struck out nine but needed 113 pitches to finish 5 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and two runs. He gave up four well-placed singles, including two infield hits, through his first five innings, but walked three batters and hit another to drive up his pitch count. It's the first time since July 30 he threw as many as 100 pitches in a game.

"I ended up with a lot of traffic, and in a tight ballgame you know you've got to pitch around those sometimes, especially when you're fighting for wins like we are," he said. "I elevated the pitch count and just tried to do my best with it."

Video: LAA@HOU: Cole allows 2 runs, K's 9 over 5 2/3 innings

SOUND SMART
Cole (243) and Justin Verlander (240) are the first pair of teammates to record at least 240 strikeouts in the same season since Mark Prior (245) and Kerry Wood (266) did so for the 2003 Cubs.

HE SAID IT
"I really thought the slider played well tonight. It didn't play well in August, so now that we're in September, I guess it plays." -- Cole

Video: LAA@HOU: Astros discuss 4-2 win over Halos

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Springer looked like he might have his second home run of the game leading off the fifth inning, but the ball caromed high off the wall and back onto the field as he raced in for a double. A crew-chief review confirmed that the ball hit below the yellow home run line.

Video: LAA@HOU: Springer 2Bs off top of wall, call confirmed

UP NEXT
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (10-10, 3.58 ERA) starts for the Astros in Monday's 1:10 p.m. CT series opener against the Twins at Minute Maid Park. Keuchel is 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA in his last 14 starts after going 3-8 with a 4.45 ERA in his first 14 starts. Kyle Gibson (7-11, 3.79) will start for Minnesota.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Alex Bregman, Gerrit Cole, George Springer