Astros turn away Pujols, LA for needed win
HOUSTON -- Astros manager Dusty Baker saw the name of Albert Pujols creeping closer in his scorecard, a wrinkle which added a nerve-wracking twist to a game that was already filled with drama. So it had to be Pujols -- the Astros’ long-time nemesis -- who came up to bat with two outs in the ninth inning representing the tying run on Wednesday night.
With Astros closer Ryan Pressly out with a stiff neck, dealing a devastating blow to Houston’s already battered bullpen, Baker turned to Bryan Abreu in the ninth with a three-run lead. A couple of two-out walks frayed nerves and set the stage for Abreu to face Prince Albert. Abreu was up to the challenge and struck out Pujols swinging to nail down his first career save in a scintillating 5-2 win over the Dodgers at Minute Maid Park.
“I was having recurring nightmares from the past when Albert was beating us many, many times,” Baker said. “[Abreu] made quality pitches when we needed, and we won the game.”
This was indeed a night the Astros sorely needed, coming off one of their worst games of the season -- a 9-2 loss Tuesday for their fourth straight setback. Facing lightning-rod starter Trevor Bauer and without designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and outfielder Michael Brantley, the odds were stacked against the Astros.
That didn’t matter to rookie starting pitcher Luis Garcia, who outdueled Bauer by throwing a career-high six innings and giving up one unearned run. It didn’t matter to Jose Altuve, who set the tone with a leadoff homer in the first and added an RBI single in the seventh. And it didn’t matter to Carlos Correa, who blasted a go-ahead homer in the sixth.
“Yesterday was a tough one for us,” Altuve said. “It’s very important that we came out tonight and turned things around pretty quickly. We scored some runs and Luis Garcia, he was amazing today. I’m happy we won this one.”
Garcia, who won his third consecutive start, threw a career-high 100 pitches, 39 in a tenuous third inning in which he allowed a run but stranded the bases loaded. He wasn’t challenged after that, sending down the final 10 batters he faced.
“I’m taking every opportunity that they give me,” said Garcia, who lowered his ERA to 2.93 and his WHIP to 1.02 in 46 innings. “I’m taking advantage of those opportunities every time I go out as a reliever, as a starter. I don’t know if I’m going to stay a starter, but I’m ready to go in any situation.”
The closed roof at Minute Maid Park echoed back-and-forth cheers from fans of both teams from one of baseball’s most intense rivalries -- a rivalry that dates back to the days of the National League West in the 1970s and '80s and culminated with the Astros’ triumph in the 2017 World Series -- a title brought into question two years later when the sign-stealing scandal rocked the sport.
“It felt great tonight to be able to get this one,” Correa said. “Obviously, last night we didn’t play how we wanted to. It was one of the worst games we played all year, and we had to come back today and make it right and go out there and perform, and we did. We got a nice win tonight.”
The Astros insist their focus was trying to fight their way through a losing streak and growing injuries, but deep down, they couldn’t stomach the thought of the Dodgers -- and thousands of their blue-clad fans -- leaving Houston waving brooms following a two-game sweep.
“It was a close game all night,” said Baker, the former Dodgers star who played 105 games in the Astrodome in his career. “You didn’t hardly see anybody running up and down the aisle or going to the bathroom. It was a lot of fun. This is how I remember Houston being.”
The Astros and Dodgers will tangle again in August in Los Angeles before fans for the first time since the sign-stealing scandal broke in 2019, a series that figures to be even more intense. The Astros-Dodgers rivalry rages on.
"A lot of people have said a lot, and that doesn’t mean we go out there every single day and try to win because of what they said,” Correa said. “It doesn’t matter to us.”