Two key homers hold up in win over A's

July 8th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Even on a night the Astros’ powerful offense found it difficult to generate baserunners, they did just enough to keep adding to their American League West lead.

On the strength of a three-run homer from Jose Altuve in the third inning and Kyle Tucker's tie-breaking solo shot in the seventh, both off A's starter Sean Manaea, the Astros won their sixth in a row, 4-3, on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

“Certainly we knew Tuck was due,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He had been hitting the ball hard most of the night and he got that homer right on when we needed it. Manaea was throwing the ball good, too. … [Luis] Garcia kept us in the game so that one swing meant something. Jose got us on the board with that three-run homer and we didn’t know if that was going to be enough, but I’m so glad Tuck hit that ball over the fence.”

With the win, Houston (54-33) has opened up a season-high 5 1/2-game lead over the A’s in the AL West by improving to 9-3 against Oakland this year. The Astros are 25-12 against the AL West and 41-19 against teams with winning records.

Here are three takeaways from the win:

Key swings fuel offense
It’s not very often the Astros win a game when they get outhit by the opposition, winning on Wednesday for only the eighth time (against 22 losses) in those situations this year. Houston managed only four hits, but the huge swings by Altuve and Tucker are a testament to how deep the Astros lineup is and how it can do damage from any spot in the order.

Altuve’s three-run homer -- a 413-foot, no-doubt shot to left field -- was his 19th of the season and a game-changer for the Astros, who managed only two hits the rest of the game. Tucker’s homer came on the heels of a 5-for-31 stretch at the plate, and it was his first homer since June 13, a span of 44 at-bats. It was also his third homer off Manaea this year.

“I hit it well,” said Tucker, whose homer sailed 414 feet over Houston’s bullpen in right field. “I never know, so I just keep running. I feel like if I hit the ball or something and I’m standing at home I feel terrible, so I just try and run. I hit it well. I figured it would get out and it did. I’m happy with that.”

Brantley comes through defensively
Michael Brantley is a solid performer in left field who has been doing it for a long time. Baker has been giving him more days at designated hitter in the last month and playing slugger Yordan Alvarez more in left. Part of the reason is so Brantley can be a little bit fresher in the field, and his defense paid off on Wednesday.

With runners at second and third and no outs in the sixth inning and the game tied, Brantley threw out Ramón Laureano at the plate as the speedy outfielder was trying to score on a fly ball off the bat of Sean Murphy. The ball wasn’t hit especially deep, but Brantley ranged to his right, made the catch and fired an 88.8 mph one-hopper to catcher Martín Maldonado, who applied the tag.

“Michael played it perfectly,” Baker said. “He got behind it. He fielded the ball on his throwing side. That’s textbook. That’s how you do it. He threw it accurately to the plate. … That’s a game-saver right there. That’s a huge, huge play and that’s another example of his defense. Michael, like I always said, he’s an outstanding defender. He’s usually at the right spot at the right time.”

Garcia's pitch count a concern
As Garcia approaches a career high for innings pitched, Baker said conserving his innings wasn’t on his mind when he pulled the right-hander after five innings and 88 pitches. Baker said Garcia’s target was 100 pitches, but the team believed he’d likely hit that mark in the sixth, which meant they would have had to take him out of the game mid-inning. They opted for Cristian Javier to start the sixth instead.

Garcia gave up two runs and one hit (a home run by Matt Olson), striking out seven. He’s now allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 15 starts this year and only one run in seven of those starts. Garcia’s career-high for innings pitched is 108 2/3, in 2019 between Class A Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Fayetteville. He’s at 85 1/3 innings so far this year in Houston.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “How the season is going, I’m getting stronger and that makes me feel good. I want to throw a lot. That’s what I like to do.”