Astros ride 3-run 4th in Fiers' strong encore
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Fiers couldn't replicate the no-hitter from his previous outing, but tossed six-plus innings of three-hit ball to lead the Astros to a 4-1 win over the Twins on Saturday night at Target Field.
Fiers, who threw a 134-pitch no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 21, was given extra rest and looked sharp against Minnesota. The right-hander allowed one run on three hits and three walks to improve to 2-0 with 2.25 ERA in five appearances with Houston since being traded from Milwaukee. But he left after taking a comebacker from Eddie Rosario off his hand in the seventh after hitting Trevor Plouffe with a pitch -- a non-factor in his exit, he said, as he was unhurt and already at 98 pitches.
"I felt great," Fiers said. "To get that extra rest after throwing so many pitches helped me out a lot. [Manager A.J. Hinch] didn't have to do that but with the way people are throwing, he was able to push me back, plus that off day, so it worked out."
Fiers outlasted Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey, who went 3 2/3 innings, surrendering four runs on seven hits and two walks. Fiers also helped the Astros establish a new franchise record, as they've allowed three runs or fewer in 11 straight games. The Twins went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, leaving seven runners on base.
"The last couple starts I don't think my command has been that great," Pelfrey said. "I've had a hard time getting through five. I couldn't get through five tonight and against a team like this with great pitching, it doesn't feel good. I put these guys in a tough hole and so the game is on me. I didn't do very good and I need to be better."
With the win, the Astros remain four games ahead of the Rangers in the American League West. The Twins fell 1 1/2 games behind Texas for the second American League Wild Card after the Rangers' 4-3 win over the Orioles.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Astros tag Pelfrey: After being shut out on Friday, the Astros' bats came to life in the fourth inning against Pelfrey. A Luis Valbuena two-run double highlighted the inning, and left fielder Jake Marisnick capped it with a two-out RBI single. In total, five of the Astros' 10 hits came in the fourth.
Twins can't capitalize in fourth: Joe Mauer got the first hit for the Twins -- a fourth-inning single -- after a walk from Eduardo Escobar and Miguel Sano followed with a walk to load the bases. But Plouffe grounded into a run-scoring double play. Rosario popped up to second to end the inning.
"Offensively, we didn't have many chances," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We had the bases loaded situation where we couldn't get a big hit to be back in the game."
Harris, Neshek shut down: The Twins had the tying run at the plate in both the seventh and eighth innings, but couldn't get much further than that. Will Harris, who inherited two runners from Fiers, worked out of a jam in the seventh, getting both Torii Hunter and Byron Buxton to strike out and Kurt Suzuki to fly out. An inning later, Pat Neshek had runners at the corners with just an out before getting Sano to strike out swinging and Plouffe to ground out softly.
"I think Fiers in the fourth and Harris in the seventh and Neshek in the eighth -- Neshek created his own [jam] a little bit -- those three innings to limit them to one run in innings where it could have gotten a little bit worse was really, really big in this win," Hinch said.
Minnesota's bullpen stays hot: With Pelfrey lasting 3 2/3 innings, Blaine Boyer, Neal Cotts, Casey Fien and Brian Duensing combined to hold the Astros scoreless the rest of the way. Twins relievers have posted a 0.72 ERA in 37 1/3 innings over their last 10 games.
"They've been keeping it together for us," Molitor said. "We've been able to put some wins on the board despite not getting our best starting pitching recently." More >
"I know that as a whole us starters have been killing this bullpen. I know these guys came through night but our goal is to play into deep October. That's going to wear on these guys. They picked me up today but I'm kind of tired of saying that. I'd like to pick them up instead of going four or five innings." -- Pelfrey, on the bullpen
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton made a pair of impressive running catches, robbing Evan Gattis of a hit in the first and Jed Lowrie of one in the second.
"He kept us in there early," Molitor said. "Not a lot of people can get to those balls as far as range is concerned. On the full sprint like that to catch the balls on his shoe tops, those were pretty good plays. He's playing a good center field. He's in a little battle right now, offensively, but at least he's not carrying it over to the defensive side."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With a single in the fourth inning, Jose Altuve has now reached base in 26 consecutive games. The last Astro to do that was Michael Bourn, who had a 28-game streak in 2010-11.
After an RBI hit in the third inning, designated hitter Evan Gattis was thrown out by Rosario trying to take second base. The Astros challenged the call, but the replay confirmed that Gattis overslid the bag and was tagged out. It was the team-leading 13th outfield assist for Rosario.
The Twins won a challenge in the sixth, when Brian Dozier was ruled out at second base by second-base umpire Bill Miller as he tried to stretch a single into a double. But after a review, the call was overturned and Dozier was safe at second with a leadoff double.
Astros: Rookie Lance McCullers will get the start for the Astros in the finale of the three-game series on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. CT. McCullers, who is 5-4 with a 3.12 ERA this season in 15 starts, gave up two runs in seven innings the last time out.
Twins: Right-hander Ervin Santana starts in the series finale and has struggled this month, posting a 9.12 ERA in five starts. He's coming off a rough start against the Rays, as he lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits.
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