Astros ride big first inning to 80th win

August 20th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros gave up 14 hits, went 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight men on base. That made for a dogfight against the Tigers in which the Astros held on to win, 5-4, on Monday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros, who scored four runs in the first inning, joined the Dodgers and Yankees as the only teams in the Major Leagues to reach 80 wins while improving to 44-15 at home. Star shortstop left the game after the first inning with back discomfort, but the Astros managed to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a week.

“We had to work pretty hard for that win and I think our pitching staff being able to get some key punchouts when we needed [was key],” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We stranded a lot of their runners, we had a big first inning with some two-out hits and we won a Major League game. Credit to a lot of different guys.”

The Astros didn’t have a lot of clean innings on the mound, but continued to make big pitches, especially with two strikes and runners in scoring position. That was critical.

"They have a veteran team, a World Series team over there,” said Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle, who took over when Ron Gardenhire was ejected in the fifth inning. “Those guys slow the game down over there and you make a mistake, whether it be the first inning or the ninth inning, they make you pay."
Here are three players who came up big for the Astros:

Starting pitcher
It was a frustrating start to the game for Miley, who allowed the first four batters in the game to reach on singles, including a leadoff bunt by Victor Reyes and a blooper later in the inning. Forced to make some adjustments, he went to his backdoor cutter away because hitters were swinging early in counts, and later on they started to dive at pitches, and he had to make that adjustment, too.

“I thought it was a tough night for him to read the hitters,” Hinch said. “They were doing a lot of things differently, and he had traffic from the very beginning of the game.”

Miley (12-4) allowed a season-high 10 hits, but held the Tigers to three runs while striking out eight batters without a walk in 5 2/3 innings. He improved to 6-0 with a 2.65 ERA in his last 10 starts (the Astros are 8-2 in those starts). He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in 24 of his 26 starts.

“It was a grind, no doubt,” he said. “There was the one inning we got two quicks [quick outs] and then back-to-back ground balls right past me. That’s stuff you’ve got to deal with. Tip your hat to them for staying in at-bats and staying in pitches and putting the ball in play.”

Relief pitcher
Harris, who’s been the Astros’ most consistent relief pitcher this year, entered with a 5-4 lead in the eighth and got two quick outs before walking nine-hole hitter Jordy Mercer on four pitches. Hinch said Harris called it the “worst walk of his career.”

“Any time you get two outs in a one-run game, you’re trying to end the inning right there,” Harris said. “Walking him on four straight pitches that weren’t really that close was not ideal.”

After Reyes got a single to push Mercer -- the tying run -- to third base, Harris struck out Travis Demeritte to strand the runner at third. Closer struck out John Hicks swinging to end the game, also stranding a runner at third. Harris threw a season-high 27 pitches.

“He’s usually very efficient,” Hinch said. “Not being able to throw a strike when he wanted to and then a broken-bat hit and all of a sudden they have an inning and they’re a hit away with one of their best hitters, he reached back for a little bit extra. That was a big out.”

First baseman
After Correa struck out in the first with runners at second and third base, Gurriel ripped a two-run double over the head of Demeritte in center field to spark a four-run first inning for the Astros. Gurriel, who scored on a fielding error in left field by Brandon Dixon, added a key single in the fifth, which led to a run to finish 2-for-4.

Gurriel is hitting .381 with 16 doubles, 20 homers and 56 RBIs since June 23 and leads the team with a career-high 88 RBIs. He has 19 RBIs in his past 12 games and has 43 multihit games, which is one shy of his career high (2017 and 2018).

“Yuli is not underappreciated because we know what he does,” Hinch said. “He hides down there in the six, seven hole and comes up and hits a rocket when we need it.”