Astros beat Twins behind Fiers' strong start
HOUSTON — It has become commonplace to assess Mike Fiers' performances based on the number of home runs he allows in an outing, even in those instances where he pitches exceptionally well through the dingers.
Appearances like Sunday.
The Houston right-hander produced a strong start and the Astros parlayed aggressive baserunning into two late insurance runs in their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Minute Maid Park.
Fiers (6-4) surrendered his 21st and 22nd home runs but was otherwise marvelous in seven innings, allowing four hits while getting a season-high 11 strikeouts. He did not walk a batter.
After yielding a homer to Twins shortstop Ehire Adrianza with one out in the third inning, Fiers allowed just two additional hits, both singles, and faced the minimum in his last four innings.
Fiers' pickoff of Adrianza at first base capped the fifth and helped preserve the Astros' 3-2 lead.
"The curveball, I felt like I could throw it any time," Fiers said. "I was throwing it for a strike and trying to expand it for two strikes and they start swinging once you show you can command it in the zone and then they just try to put it in play."
The Astros (62-30) tacked on two runs in the seventh. Jake Marisnick chased Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson (5-8) with a leadoff walk and, after stealing second base, took third on a groundout to the left side of the infield.
Twins first baseman Kennys Vargas attempted to erase Marisnick as he slid into the bag, but his errant toss enabled the Astros to up their lead to 4-2.
Jose Altuve followed with a double off Twins reliever Trevor Hildenberger plus a steal of third base before coming home on a pitch in the dirt after a strikeout of Josh Reddick.
Altuve darted toward the plate as Twins catcher Chris Gimenez threw to Vargas to complete the out at first base, and he just beat the throw home from Vargas with a slide behind Gimenez.
"We wanted to put pressure on their defense," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "When Jake Marisnick and Jose Altuve are on the bases, they're always a threat to create some havoc.
"It's a little bit of the strength of those players and also the situation where we could play it with a little bit of freedom. We had the lead, we're trying to extend the lead, we had some matchup stuff that we liked to take advantage of. It was just a really good job of playing loose baseball."
Gibson allowed four runs, six hits and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings for the Twins (46-45), who lost five of six games against the Astros this season.
Gibson did not surrender a hit after the fourth when Astros left fielder Norichika Aoki produced a two-run double that gave Houston a 3-2 lead. Two of the four batters that Gibson walked eventually scored.
"I was appreciative that he let me go back out there in the seventh," Gibson said of Twins manager Paul Molitor. "I felt really good and was glad I was able to get that ground ball from Aoki in the sixth, and I was just glad that he sent me back out there and gave me a chance to compete."
Vargas blasted a 452-foot shot into the upper deck in right field for his eighth home run in the second inning. That highlight was just one of two for Minnesota with Fiers on the mound.
"We battled," Molitor said. "Fiers obviously had a good day and had us guessing."
NOTES: Slumping Twins SS Jorge Polanco was benched and replaced by Ehire Adrianza, who homered in his first at-bat. Polanco owns a .317 OPS this month with just one multi-hit game in July. Since posting consecutive multi-hit games on June 22-23, Polanco is batting .123 with 17 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances and 18 games. ... Astros manager A.J. Hinch displayed his commitment to resting starters, giving All-Star SS Carlos Correa the day off while giving another All-Star, George Springer, a half-day by utilizing him as the designated hitter. Utility player Marwin Gonzalez started in place of Correa at shortstop. ... With a day game after a night game, Twins 1B Joe Mauer was held out of the starting lineup. Mauer missed six games with a lower back strain before his reinstatement from the 10-day disabled list on Saturday.