Gerrit Cole facing his former team—seemingly without his best stuff—doesn’t sound like the finest of scenarios. Fortunately, it’s nearly impossible for the Houston Astros to lose when Yuli Gurriel drives in a run.
A two-run homer by Gurriel and six innings from Cole paced the way as the Astros dropped the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 in the first of a six-game homestand that featured the return of two players.
Through three innings Cole hadn’t allowed any runs, but MLB’s strikeout leader mysteriously had only two punchouts. In fact, the Astros may have been trailing were it not for the defensive theatrics of Josh Reddick, who robbed Starling Marte to keep the game scoreless.
A leadoff double by Alex Bregman started the fourth inning for Houston. Trevor Williams retired the next two batters to bring up Gurriel, who piñata’d a pitch at his shoulders over the Crawford Boxes to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
The home run was Gurriel’s seventh of the year and was a sign of good things to come the Astros’ way.
The Astros are 28-1 over their last 29 games and 40-2 in their last 42 games in which Yuli Gurriel drove in a run— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 25, 2019
But Cole seemed to be up against it most of the night. He was able to escape in a jam in the fifth when Adam Frazier flew out to the warning track in left, with two runners on, followed by a punchout of leadoff batter Kevin Newman. After five innings, the Astros held the lead but Pirates starter Trevor Williams had as many strikeouts (3) as Cole did (3).
The Pirates threatened again in the sixth. Corey Dickerson hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on a groundout. Slugger Josh Bell came to the plate in a matchup that pitted power against power. Bell hit a comebacker to Cole, who snagged it to freeze Dickerson at third and fired to first to retire Bell for the second out.
Melky Cabrera was able to pick up his teammates with a single to right to cut the Astros’ lead in half. Former Astro Colin Moran followed with his second hit of the night and Cole’s second walk loaded the bases with two outs and Houston’s starter at 100 pitches.
Likely facing his final batter, Cole got former battery mate Elias Diaz to poke a chopper to first baseman Tyler White for the final out of his outing. Though Cole didn’t appear to have his best stuff, he battled and was still good enough to provide the Astros his 13th quality start in 17 outings this season.
Bregman restored the Astros’ lead to two with his 22nd home run of the season, a solo shot to the Crawford Boxes that put Houston atop 3-1.
Robinson Chirinos added a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Yordan Alvarez rocketed an extra-base hit to the wall in rightcenter in the eighth to push the Astros’ lead to 5-1. Alvarez has 17 RBI in the first 13 games of his career and 88 total this year across 70 combined games in Triple-A and MLB.
George Springer went 1-for-3 in his first game back after a long layoff, and boy have the Astros missed his presence at the top of the order.
Astros’ leadoff hitters were slashing .177/.273/.363 since Springer went on the IL, with that AVG 2nd worst in MLB over that span (.298/.377/.600 before he went on the IL).— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) June 26, 2019
A picture, just to remind you how good it is to see Springer back in action.
Collin McHugh also made a triumphant return, striking out one in a scoreless ninth inning. Josh James and Will Harris both twirled perfect innings for the Astros.
Clay Holmes allowed one run for the Pirates in the eighth but struck out three batters.
Cole (7-5, 3.42) earned the win in his first start against his former club, tossing six innings of one-run ball on seven hits. Williams (2-2, 4.25) pitched 6 2⁄3 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs to go with four strikeouts.
The Astros have won nine straight home-series openers and are unbeaten in series at home this season. Bregman had a three-hit night and scored three runs for the Astros.
Alvarez fouled a ball of his back leg in the fourth inning and retreated to the clubhouse after finishing his at-bat. He remained in the game and made two more plate appearances before Myles Straw was inserted as a pinch-runner.
Former Astro Michael Feliz faced one batter, getting Jose Altuve to ground out to shortstop.
Chirinos threw out his seventh base-stealer of the season in 34 tries (21%), more than he caught stealing all of 2018 (6 total). Although Chirinos’ thrown-out rate is still below league-average this season (27%), his numbers are markedly improved compared to a year ago (6-for-59, 10%).
The victory was Houston’s 50th, one game shy of the season’s halfway mark.
Box score and videos here.
The Astros play the middle game of their series with the Pirates Wednesday night when Framber Valdez (3-3, 3.61) faces unbeaten/winless TBA. Valdez was roughed by against the New York Yankees in his most recent start, lasting only 3 1⁄3 innings Thursday in the Astros 10-6 loss. After three scoreless innings, Valdez allowed two homers and five runs total in his fourth inning of work. He permitted five hits in all, walked three, and struck out three in his shortest start this season. First pitch Wednesday is slated for 7:10 CT.