McCullers, Tucker lead the way in victory

Stanek, Graveman and Pressly shut the door with three scoreless frames

September 13th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Dusty Baker couldn’t have drawn things up much better on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

Sure, the Astros could have taken advantage of a pair of bases-loaded situations early in the game and Baker would have liked to have squeezed one more inning out of starter , but the 3-1 win over the Angels served its purpose.

The Astros reduced their magic number to clinch the American League West to 14 and increased their division lead to 6 1/2 games after the A's and Mariners both lost on Sunday.

“It was a great team win, to win the series and have a very nice homestand before our quick road trip,” McCullers said.

Here’s a closer look at how the Astros took down the Angels:

McCullers attacks the strike zone
McCullers (12-4) struck out seven and walked a pair in six innings while throwing 102 pitches -- his lone blemish coming on a solo homer to No. 9 hitter Juan Lagares in the fifth. He threw 67 pitches for strikes and gave up a pair of singles in addition to the homer.

“He was awesome,” Baker said. “We talked before the game and he had [in] his mind to go seven. But then the sixth inning, when they fouled off a bunch of pitches, that damn near took another inning out of him. He made just one mistake … but other than that, he was great.”

McCullers, who started the sixth with 80 pitches, needed to throw 10 pitches before getting Phil Gosselin to ground out. He then threw 12 pitches to strike out Jared Walsh and Luis Rengifo, both swinging, to end the inning -- and his day.

“I just wanted to get in the zone, wanted to give the team some length,” McCullers said.

“That sixth inning, I looked up before the [start] of the inning, had 80 pitches already and I really felt like I was going to be able to go seven, but they gave me a hard time there. The leadoff at-bat with Gosselin was 10 pitches, and Walsh nearly [was] as well. It was a good day, and like I said, a great team win and we keep moving forward.”

Tucker breaks the tie
Considering the Astros stranded the bases loaded in the first and fourth innings, they were in desperate need for a big hit when turned on a fastball from lefty José Quijada in the fifth and parked it a Statcast-projected 406 feet into the bullpen in right field for his 25th homer of the season. That broke a 1-1 tie and gave Houston a 3-1 lead.

“That was a huge homer, especially against a tough lefty,” Baker said. “We did leave the bases loaded in that first inning and we were hoping to get some runs. We got just enough to win. You want more and we’ll get more. Hopefully our offense gets going on the road.”

Tucker went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks to continue his torrid streak since coming off the injured list on Aug. 24. In 17 games since being activated, he’s batting .424 (25-for-59) with 14 runs, six doubles, two triples, three homers and 11 RBIs.

Tucker said his stance is wider than it was earlier in the season, when he was more closed off, and he’s also benefitted from his leg kick.

“My swing’s changed a lot,” he said. “If you look at my swing at the beginning of the season, the middle and now, it’s pretty different. … I feel like the first month every year isn’t good, and then I start going off after that. I have to figure that out. I’ve just been seeing the ball really well, and trying to see it into the barrel and not chase pitches.”

Stanek, Graveman, Pressly shut the door
Baker’s perfect bullpen alignment is Ryne Stanek in the seventh, Kendall Graveman in the eighth and Ryan Pressly in the ninth -- they combined for three scoreless innings on Sunday. Graveman allowed the only baserunners with a walk and a single in the eighth, while Pressly’s 1-2-3 ninth earned him his 24th save.

Since the Astros acquired Graveman from the Mariners on July 27, Sunday marked the fifth time Baker used that trio of right-handers in succession while the game was tied or Houston had the lead going into the seventh inning.

“You don’t usually get to line up in that fashion for multiple days in a row,” he said.

Said Pressly: “That’s pretty much how you want to draw it up. Everybody in that bullpen can go get big outs and they’re going to have to be able to do that in the postseason. … To have those guys, and then Stanek and Graveman and me, it’s an easy call for [pitching coach Brent Strom] and Dusty. It's fun when everything clicks and is going in order.”