Playoff-like performance hands Astros first home-series win

April 20th, 2023

HOUSTON -- The calendar reads April, but Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night was as close to October as you can get without the chill of fall in the air. The Astros and Blue Jays, a pair of American League heavyweights, thrilled a sellout crowd with the kind of baseball game meant for the postseason.

The defending World Series champions pulled a clutch win behind seven scoreless innings from Luis Garcia, a sensational escape job by reliever and a homer that capped a six-run eighth inning for an 8-1 win over the Blue Jays. It was the Astros’ first series win at home this year.

Here’s a breakdown of the key moments:

Garcia’s best start of the season
Garcia, who entered the game with a 7.71 ERA in his first three starts, got his season on track by tying a career high with nine strikeouts, along with two hits allowed and one walk in seven scoreless innings. He lowered his ERA to 5.14 as the Astros won for the first time with Garcia on the mound in 2023.

“I just was focused on what I needed to do, and my pitches were there,” Garcia said. “And it went the way it went.”

The right-hander got a career-high 23 swings and misses from his 92 pitches on the night, including 19 on his cutter. He had so much confidence in the pitch that he threw it 51 times.

Garcia struck out six of the first seven batters he faced.

“I thought I was going to strike out more, because I started off with six right away,” Garcia said. “I was happy to see that and it gets me more confidence.”

Perhaps the most positive statistic of the day for the starter was that he threw 18 of 23 first-pitch strikes, which allowed him to minimize his pitches and get deep into a game for the first time this year.

“He was excellent,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It was much-needed for us.”

Bryan Abreu escapes jam
Garcia left the game with a 2-0 lead, but the Blue Jays rallied in the eighth against , cutting Houston’s lead to 2-1 with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth. At that point, Toronto had a 62 percent win probability, so Baker turned to Bryan Abreu, hoping he could get some strikeouts with his slider.

Facing the top of the order, the reliever got George Springer to line out to at third for the first out. Abreu then struck out Bo Bichette and got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to fly out center field on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. They were perhaps the Astros’ three biggest outs of the season so far.

“That’s the situation of all relievers,” Abreu said. “You want to be in the tough part. Just go in and do the best I can and show why Dusty has trust in me.”

Abreu threw six consecutive sliders to Springer, who lined the last one right at former teammate Bregman with an exit velocity of 102.4 mph.

Springer dropped his head in disbelief. Abreu’s reaction was quite different.

“I was like, ‘Thank God that Bregman caught it,’” he said.

José Abreu sparks a rally
The Astros broke open what had been a stressful game by scoring six runs in the eighth, beginning with José Abreu’s two-run single on a slider from Zach Pop. It was the biggest hit of the season for Abreu, whom Houston signed to drive in runs in the middle of the order. He’s yet to homer, but he now has four RBIs in the past three games.

“He’s been getting his hits and it starts with one,” Baker said. “That was huge. He got two hits tonight and he put the ball in play and he’s getting more and more accustomed to all these breaking balls they’ve been throwing him. The more you see early, the more you’re going to get your stroke and your eye back. That was big.”

added an RBI single and Peña capped it with a first-pitch homer to left field off reliever Adam Cimber. The Astros were 3-for-3 with runners in scoring position in the eighth inning, scoring all six runs with two outs.

“Happy today, obviously,” José Abreu said. “I haven't driven in a couple of runs in a couple of days, but I’m here trying to work every single day.”