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Altuve, Gurriel provide plenty of power for JV

Right side of infield combines for 7 RBIs; ace retires final 15 batters faced
@brianmctaggart
July 14, 2019

ARLINGTON -- The second half of the season couldn’t have started much worse for the Astros, who played poorly in dropping the first two games of their series against the rival Rangers at Globe Life Park before overcoming various miscues to pull out an extra-inning win on Saturday. But the

ARLINGTON -- The second half of the season couldn’t have started much worse for the Astros, who played poorly in dropping the first two games of their series against the rival Rangers at Globe Life Park before overcoming various miscues to pull out an extra-inning win on Saturday.

But the Astros were back in peak form in Sunday’s series finale, getting six strong innings from Justin Verlander, a grand slam by José Altuve and a two-run homer from red-hot Yuli Gurriel to blast the Rangers, 12-4, in their final regular-season game at the 25-year-old ballpark.

Box score

“It’s a great split, based on how the first couple of games went,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I’m proud of our guys to hang in there and get the win last night and come back with an early turnaround and put up a really good offensive night. … At the front of the series, you want to win the series, but when it played out the way it did, 2-2 looks pretty good right now.”

Here are three takeaways from the Astros’ 59th win, which is tied with the Yankees for the most in the American League:

Verlander rights the ship

Verlander kept the power-packed Rangers lineup in the yard to deliver a masterful performance in his first start of the second half. After giving up a pair of runs in the first inning and issuing a leadoff walk to start the second, he sent down 15 in a row and would have pitched the seventh had the Astros not blown the game open.

“I made some adjustments after the first inning,” Verlander said. “These guys came out hot. I think it was big for our guys to put up a couple more runs after they scored a couple on me in the first. I kept the momentum in our favor and made some adjustments and kept on.”

Verlander allowed three consecutive one-out singles in the first inning, as the Rangers were on his secondary pitches.

“He looked like he dialed in a little bit as the game went on,” Hinch said. “I thought he adjusted his game plan and a little bit of his sharpness. He started to finish pitches and finish at-bats very, very well.”

Verlander (11-4, 2.98 ERA), who had allowed nine homers in his previous four starts and entered the game with a Major League-high 26 homers allowed, struck out seven batters against one walk to earn his 16th career victory against the Rangers.

“They really do have a lot of power and certainly hit well in this ballpark,” Hinch said. “They play well, they win in this ballpark. We’ll take the win.”

Altuve is back

One night after banging out a career-high-tying four hits, Altuve’s third career grand slam keyed a seven-run seventh inning for the Astros. Altuve (3-for-5) is surging since coming off the injured list, batting .322 (29-for-90) in 20 games since missing 35 games with a hamstring strain. He went 7-for-11 in the final two games of the series to raise his average to .274.

“It’s huge for him,” Hinch said. “He’s been trending in the right direction and doing a lot of work and getting a lot more hits. We’re all happier when Jose gets his hits, and in big fashion like that is huge for us.”

Batting in the seventh with the Astros leading, 6-2, Altuve hit a 2-2 sinker from Kyle Bird 394 feet just over the wall in left field. It was the Astros’ ninth grand slam of the year, extending the club’s single-season record.

“Bases loaded, less than two outs, I’m looking to hit the ball far enough to get one run in,” Altuve said. “I was looking for a pitch I can handle, and I kind of got it.”

Gurriel the Great

When the Astros get infielders Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz back from injury by the end of this month and are able to slot them into the lineup with rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez for the first time, Houston’s offense could be scary good.

That lineup will be even more potent if Gurriel keeps mashing like he’s done the past two weeks. Gurriel had three RBIs on Sunday, including a two-run homer in the seventh inning to stretch the lead to 12-2. He became the first Astros player with at least 11 homers in a 15-game span since Richard Hidalgo in September 2000. He’s hitting .395 in July with eight homers and 18 RBIs.

“His contact point has been a little bit better, his body control has been better, he’s hunted pitches better,” Hinch said. “It’s been an amazing run for him, and if he continues that consistency he can be extremely productive as he starts to hit fifth or sixth or seventh. It’s pretty scary with him at the bottom-third of the order when we get healthy.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.