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10 defining moments of Astros' 2018 season

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- There were memorable individual performances, dazzling defense plays and plenty of clutch hits. The Astros' magical ride through the 2018 season began with a leadoff homer by George Springer on Opening Day and continued through their playoff-clinching win, raising expectations that another World Series championship could be near.

The Astros hope to cap an unforgettable season by becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back World Series titles, but they'll have to navigate through the rough-and-tumble American League playoffs to get it done. The story of how the Astros reached the postseason for the third time in four years is already one Astros fans will cherish.

HOUSTON -- There were memorable individual performances, dazzling defense plays and plenty of clutch hits. The Astros' magical ride through the 2018 season began with a leadoff homer by George Springer on Opening Day and continued through their playoff-clinching win, raising expectations that another World Series championship could be near.

The Astros hope to cap an unforgettable season by becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back World Series titles, but they'll have to navigate through the rough-and-tumble American League playoffs to get it done. The story of how the Astros reached the postseason for the third time in four years is already one Astros fans will cherish.

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Here's a look at the Astros' Top 10 moments from the '18 season:

Video: LAA@HOU: Cole K's 12 over 7 innings for his 15th win

• Astros 11, Angels 3 on Sept. 21: Yuli Gurriel hit a grand slam and a two-run home run and drove in seven runs to lead the Astros to a playoff spot for the third time in four years. Gurriel's first-inning grand slam provided all the runs Astros starter Gerrit Cole would need. The right-hander struck out 12 for an AL-leading 272, overtaking teammate Justin Verlander (269). Gurriel's seven RBIs were the most for the Astros since J.R. Towles had a club-record eight RBIs on Sept. 20, 2007, against the Cardinals.

Video: HOU@TEX: Springer starts season with a homer again

• Astros 4, Rangers 1 on March 29: Springer made history with his first swing of the season by hitting a leadoff homer. Springer achieved his feat on the third pitch of the game, belting a leadoff homer to start a season for the second year in a row and leading the Astros to an Opening Day victory over the Rangers. Springer hit a 2-0 pitch from Rangers starter Cole Hamels into the right-field seats. In doing so, he became the first player to hit a leadoff home run in the first inning on Opening Day in back-to-back seasons.

Video: Must C Curious: Astros win after Padres drop popup

• Astros 1, Padres 0 on April 7: After struggling to find a clutch hit against the Padres, the Astros came away with an unlikely walk-off win in the 10th inning when the Padres couldn't catch a popup by Alex Bregman with two outs, allowing Derek Fisher to score from second base. Padres reliever Phil Maton coaxed Bregman into swinging at a 3-2 cutter high in the strike zone and got him to pop it up in the infield. Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer charged in and overran the ball, allowing it to drop behind him as Fisher crossed home with the winning run.

Video: HOU@ARI: Cole K's 16 D-backs in 16 seconds

• Astros 8, D-backs 0 on May 4: Cole pitched one of the most dominant games in Astros history by striking out a career-high 16 batters while giving up only a fifth-inning double for his first career shutout and first career one-hitter. That gave him 77 strikeouts in his first seven starts with the Astros, a Major League record for a pitcher in his first seven starts with a new team. His final pitch of the game was 99 mph.

Video: HOU@OAK: Springer picks up 6 hits vs. the A's

• Astros 16, A's 2 on May 7: Springer spearheaded the Astros' biggest offensive outburst of the season, tying a franchise record by going 6-for-6, including a three-run homer, to back a strong outing from starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Springer, whose batting average jumped to .292 from .264, joined Hall of Famer Joe Morgan as the only Astros player to have six hits in a game. Morgan achieved his feat on July 8, 1965, in a 12-inning game, making Springer the only player in Astros history to get six hits in a nine-inning game.

Video: HOU@LAA: Verlander K's Ohtani for 2,500th strikeout

• Astros 2, Angels 0 on May 16: On a night in which he notched his 2,500th career strikeout, Verlander threw a 118-pitch five-hit shutout in Anaheim, lowering his ERA to 1.05 after 10 starts. Verlander retired Mike Trout to end a threat in the eighth inning. Verlander completed the ninth inning for his eighth career shutout, his first since 2015. He struck out Shohei Ohtani for No. 2,500.

Video: Must C Consecutive: Astros' back-to-back-to-back HRs

• Astros 5, Rays 1 on June 20: Springer, Bregman and Jose Altuve walloped back-to-back-to-back homers off Tampa Bay starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, sending the Astros to their 13th win in 14 games. The home run barrage came two innings after Altuve tied the game with a solo homer in the fourth. It was the sixth time in franchise history that the Astros hit three consecutive homers and the first since Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee did it against Brewers pitcher Carlos Villanueva on May 2, 2008.

Video: Must C Conclusion: Astros win it in odd fashion in 11

• Astros 6, A's 5 in 10 innings on July 10: The Astros won on a bizarre walk-off when Bregman hit a dribbler and thought it rolled foul. He then realized it rolled back into fair territory and saw A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy field the ball and attempt to tag him. Bregman hopped backward as a reaction and watched Lucroy drop the ball. He hustled down the first-base line and was plunked in the helmet by Lucroy's attempted throw to first. The A's catcher's throw ricocheted into right field and allowed Kyle Tucker to score from second base.

Video: Must C Clutch: Gonzalez belts go-ahead 3-run homer

• Astros 3, Giants 1 on Aug. 6: Down to their final out, the Astros pulled out an unlikely win when Marwin Gonzalez hit a three-run homer on a two-seam fastball from Giants left-hander Will Smith and sent it into the left-field seats for a stunning comeback. For the switch-hitting Gonzalez, it was a rare homer from the right side of the plate. The homer made a winner out of Roberto Osuna in his first game since being acquired from Toronto. He threw five pitches in a quiet eighth inning after seven one-run innings from starter Charlie Morton.

Video: HOU@OAK: Verlander K's six, earns 200th career win

• Astros 9, A's 4 on Aug. 19: Verlander allowed four runs and seven hits, including three homers, in 5 1/3 innings but still picked up his 200th career win. Verlander became the 114th pitcher in Major League history to reach 200 wins, joining Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia as the only active pitchers to reach the milestone. After the game, Cole gave a speech in the clubhouse recapping Verlander's career, and other teammates sprayed him with champagne.

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, Justin Verlander