All gas, no brakes: Astros steamroll toward finish line

Urquidy spins 7 scoreless; Altuve smacks 2-run homer on 3-hit day to lead win

September 5th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- The fact that the Astros have all but locked up the American League West title, have a comfortable lead over the Yankees for the best record in the AL and are in the midst of playing 18 consecutive games against teams with losing records hasn’t kept them from keeping their foot on the gas.

The Astros polished off a 4-1 road trip on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium -- it was 102 degrees at first pitch -- by scoring five times in the second inning en route to crushing the Angels, 9-1. José Urquidy threw seven scoreless innings, and Kyle Tucker and Jose Altuve and walloped two-run homers.

“We jumped them early,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We hadn’t scored that many runs in one inning in a long time, but I’m glad we added on.”

The Astros maintained their six-game lead over the Yankees for the top spot in the AL, and their lead atop the division remained at 10 after the Mariners' 11-inning win vs. the Guardians on Sunday night. Houston (86-48) needs to go 14-14 in its final 28 games to reach 100 wins for the fourth time in the past five 162-game seasons.

Here are three things that stood out from Sunday’s game:

Urquidy works quick, throw strikes in heat
Remember when the Astros were shopping Urquidy at the Trade Deadline? Not that you could blame them, really, considering they had a surplus of starting pitching and top prospect Hunter Brown knocking at the door. That surplus was lessened when Justin Verlander landed on the 15-day IL with a right calf injury last week, and Brown will make his debut Monday against the Rangers.

Then there’s Urquidy, who has put together his best Major League season and was terrific once again Sunday, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Angels. He gave up four hits and one walk and struck out eight batters.

“He was awesome.” Baker said. “The weather didn't bother him. He’s from Mazatlan, [Mexico], and this [temperature] is every day, almost. It’s just good to watch him pitch like this.”

A strike-thrower, Urquidy pounded the zone -- 73 of his 111 pitches were strikes -- and worked quickly to keep his defense off the field and out of the heat to save energy, too. Since ditching his cutter in mid-June, Urquidy is 8-2 with a 2.58 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP, with 12 quality starts in 14 outings.

“Yesterday, I hydrated a lot,” he said. “I was drinking a lot of water. I know today, it was very hot ... and I was thinking to make good pitches and have a fast game today.”

Welcome back, Yordan
Making his first start since Aug. 27 because of a mysterious right hand ailment, Yordan Alvarez looked rusty at the outset, when he hit into a double play and struck out in his first two at-bats. He drew a walk in the fifth and flied out to left field in the seventh before ripping a two-run single to right in the ninth inning.

“The pain doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I think the last swing just showed I was able to put the ball in the air, and that felt really good to me. I think I showed I can play every day.”

Alvarez, the AL Player of the Month in June, has slashed .265/.383/.451 with five homers and 22 RBIs since coming off the injured list on July 21. He slashed .306/.405/.653 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs in the 75 games prior.

Altuve’s OPS tops .900
Altuve went 3-for-4 with a double and a two-run homer in the seventh inning, which pushed his OPS for the season back over .900 (.901). The eight-time All-Star has surged in the second half, hitting .321/.393/.535 in 42 games since the All-Star break, including .386/.444/.667 in 14 games since Aug. 18.

Altuve, who has 23 homers and reached 50 RBIs for the ninth time in his career, hasn’t finished with an OPS higher than .903 since the career-high .957 OPS he posted in his AL MVP season in 2017.

“I'm just trying to put good contact on the pitch I want,” he said. “I think it’s still a little early to talk about results. We can talk about that at the end of the season. I’m feeling really good right now, and I'm trying to go out there and get on base and, obviously, help my team win more games.”