HOUSTON -- Whether it’s his mindset, bat-to-balls skills or ability to cover the entire plate with his swing, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel has carved a reputation as a player who has a knack for coming through in clutch situations.
Gurriel became the first Astros player since Craig Biggio in 1991 to deliver walk-off hits in extra innings in consecutive games when he doubled home Michael Brantley from second base in the 10th inning Saturday night to send the Astros to a 6-5 win at Minute Maid Park.
Gurriel, who won Friday’s game with a walk-off homer in the 10th, is the first Astros player since Geoff Blum in '09 to have walk-off hits in consecutive games.
“I like being in tense situations and feel like I focus even more,” Gurriel said. “I’m not scared to fail and I always have a positive mindset in these situations.”
After Brantley began the 10th with a leadoff single against Mariners closer Roenis Elias, who was working his second inning, Gurriel hit an 87-mph changeup on a line and into the gap in right-center field to easily score Brantley and improve the Astros to 6-1 in extra innings.
“When the game’s on the line, you just have a good feeling, a hitterish vibe to him that he’s going to get a good pitch to hit and he’s going to hit it hard,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Now, what’s going to happen, who knows? The homer yesterday and the oppo double today to walk us off is an example of his experience. He’s very good at what he does, and was operating basically on one leg. It was an incredible at-bat.”
The hit came with Gurriel playing on a sore right ankle suffered in the seventh inning when he tried to beat out an infield and stepped awkwardly across first base. He was called safe, but the call was overturned when replay showed he didn’t touch the base. Still, Hinch wanted to keep Gurriel in the game for a possible matchup against the Mariners’ left-handed closer.
“That was very much an advantage for us to keep him in the game,” he said. “He said he felt fine. He’ll get the day off [Sunday] based on how he was moving at the end of the game.”
Gurriel joked that teammate Jose Altuve called both the home run on Friday and the game-winning double on Saturday.
“Let’s see what he announces tomorrow,” Gurriel joked.
After watching Gurriel beat his team twice in a span of 24 hours, Mariners manager Scott Servais knows too well how dangerous the 36-year-old is in clutch spots.
"He’s not going to miss pitches like that that are up,” Servais said. “He put a good swing on it. You just hope [center fielder] Mallex [Smith] can run it down, but he just wasn’t able to get there.”
Astros starter Justin Verlander needed 100 pitches to finish five innings against a Mariners team that didn’t chase his offspeed pitches. Tim Beckham hit a two-run homer in the second and Domingo Santana sent a solo homer to right field in the fifth, increasing Verlander’s home run total to a MLB-high-tying 23.
The Astros, who had scored four runs in their previous four games, broke out with a five-run second against Seattle lefty starter Yusei Kikuchi to take a 5-2 lead. Jake Marisnick’s two-run double down the left-field line was the biggest hit of the inning. Daniel Vogelbach’s solo homer in the seventh off Ryan Pressly tied the game at 5.
That only set the stage for another night of playing the hero for Gurriel.
“He’s honestly one of those guys you don’t want to face in that spot,” Verlander said. “He’s got great bat-to-ball skills. He can cover the whole plate. To be here and play with him the last few years has been incredible and to see what he can do. He’s a special ballplayer. There’s so many guys you want up in those big spots, but I think Yuli gets overlooked a little bit in the lineup and he shouldn’t.”