HOUSTON -- After a difficult road trip that produced a 3-4 mark against two teams that aren’t considered to be contenders, the Astros returned home Friday night to deliver the type of win they haven’t enjoyed in quite a while: a nice, easy blowout, over a team fighting for a playoff spot.
In beating the Mariners, 12-3, the first-place Astros accomplished a couple of things: they pushed a division rival a little further down the AL West standings, and they found some life in a lineup that struggled against the last-place Royals to end their recent road trip.
“We hit some balls hard on the road trip, with nothing to show for it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You love to see some of the fruits of your hard work. It was great for us to put up those crooked numbers out there in consecutive innings. Those guys didn’t take the foot off the pedal, and that's how you play, and that’s how I love to watch them play.”
Lance McCullers Jr. produced one of his sharpest outings of the season, but he would have been in fine position even with a less effective performance, given what the Astros’ hitters cobbled together against Mariners lefty Yusei Kikuchi.
By the time Kikuchi exited with two outs in the third, the Astros had already plated seven runs. That included an RBI triple by Carlos Correa in the first, and back-to-back homers by Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel in the third, marking the first time this year the Astros hit consecutive long balls at their home ballpark. Alvarez’s homer, which left his bat at 110.6 mph, traveled 429 feet, per Statcast.
“It was a [win] we really needed as a team, to be honest with you,” Gurriel said through the team’s interpreter. “Especially the hitters, after the last series we had, it was really tough for us. So it was something that gives us a lot more confidence to come back and have a performance like this.”
The pile-on didn’t recede until the sixth, a pattern that was, it turns out, historic. Houston scored at least two runs in each of its first five innings -- something that had never been accomplished before in franchise history.
The A’s were the last team to do this on Sept. 10, 2019, and coincidentally, they were playing the Astros in Houston. The A’s won that game, 21-7.
“When our lineup gets going, it’s something special,” said McCullers, who struck out eight Mariners batters to bring his season total to 144, a career high. “Hopefully, we can continue to carry that through this homestand. We obviously didn’t play the way we hoped there toward the end of the road trip but that's baseball, and we came back today.”
The win improved the Astros’ August mark to 8-9 and provided a break from a three-week stretch where the offense struggled more than it hit. Beginning the day after the Trade Deadline on July 31, the Astros had lost 10 of 17, and were 25th in the Majors in runs scored during that stretch.
Lulls that come over the course of a long season are inevitable, even for a lineup as dangerous as Houston’s. They are also usually temporary. Still, while these offensive lapses are happening, they’re unpleasant.
Wins like the Astros’ rout of the Mariners on Friday surely helped them move past a maddening series to a struggling Royals team that held them to just two or fewer runs in two of the four games.
There are patterns emerging that may spark optimism. Correa, for example, has been on a tear for more than three weeks. In his past 22 games, he’s hitting .325 (27-for-83) with six doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs. In addition to his triple off Kikuchi on Friday, he also led off the third inning with a base hit and scored three runs.
Alvarez is also heating up. In the month of August, he’s hitting .339 (21-for-62) with four homers and 14 RBIs. He drove in four of those runs in the series opener with Seattle.
The Mariners’ loss pushed them to 6 1/2 games behind the Astros in the AL West race, and allowed Houston to maintain a 2 1/2 game lead over the A’s.
“It was big for us tonight,” Alvarez said. “We had a bad series. Everybody knows we didn't play too well. So it was important for us to come back tonight, and have a performance like we did tonight.”