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Astros rout Rays 15-1 in Morton’s homecoming for fifth straight victory

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Alvarez goes yard twice, Chirinos homers again, Verlander earns 16th win but gets ejected

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Morton’s homecoming went even better than Astros’ fans could have imagined.

Rookie Yordan Alvarez hit two more home runs to become the fastest to 20 in club history and the Astros tagged Morton for a season-high six runs in Houston’s 15-1 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night.

The night began with an Astros’ tribute to Morton, who received a hearty ovation from the hometown fans and players alike in his first return to Minute Maid Park since departing for Tampa Bay in the offseason.

That’s about all the good vibes the Astros were sending Ground Chuck’s way Tuesday.

After two scoreless innings for both sides, Morton issued consecutive walks to Abraham Toro and Robinson Chirinos to start the third inning—a bit of a surprise, considering he had only granted two free passes all month prior to tonight. Josh Reddick took advantage by poking an RBI double to the gap in rightfield to put the Astros on top 2-0.

The offense was just getting started.

Alex Bregman opened the fourth with a liner off Morton’s backside that trickled away for a single. Alvarez followed with a ground-rule double into the stands to put two runners aboard for Yuli Gurriel, who smacked a double off the wall to make it 4-0.

Robinson Chirinos crushed a homer off the billboards above the Crawford Boxes two batters later to put the Astros up 6-0.

The homer was Chirinos’ 15th of the year, three off his career-high set in 2018.

Reddick later tripled to centerfield for the Astros’ fourth extra-base hit of the inning. Reddick has logged extra-base hits in back-to-back games, which hopefully signals his emergence from an extended slump.

Morton was able to retire George Springer and Jose Altuve to end the inning, but that also spelled the end of his night. Morton tied a season-low by lasting just four innings and allowed six earned runs on seven hits while walking two batters and hitting another.

Michael Brantley extended his hitting streak to 19 games—the Astros longest of the season—with a hard line drive off the glove of a jumping Joey Wendle to start the bottom of the fifth. Bregman followed with his second hit of the night to set the stage for Alvarez, who lofted a three-run shot—his 20th home run of the season and first of the night—just into the Crawford Boxes to put the Astros ahead 9-0.

It took the Astros’ rookie just 60 games to reach 20 MLB homers, by far the quickest player to reach that mark in club history (previously held by Springer, who needed 78 games).

The lone unpleasantry occurred when things got a little testy in the fifth. With one out, Tommy Pham hit his second double of the night off Justin Verlander, who didn’t like a non-strike call one pitch prior that could have resulted in a strikeout. Verlander chirped as the play unfolded and was eventually ejected by home plate umpire Pat Hoberg.

The ejection ended Verlander’s club record of seven straights starts with at least 10 strikeouts. Verlander finished with 5 13 innings pitched and allowed no runs allowed on four hits with four strikeouts. On the bright side, he moved ahead of teammate Gerrit Cole for the American League-lead in ERA (2.69), earned his 16th win of the season (second to Domingo German in the AL), and didn’t allow a homer for the first time in three starts.

The Astros piled on after Verlander’s departure, sending 11 men to the plate in the sixth inning.

Jake Marisnick, who entered for Brantley in the top half of the inning, knocked in two runs with a single up-the-middle to make it 11-0. Bregman dumped a single into shallow center for the Astros’ fourth straight hit off reliever Chaz Roe and Aledmys Diaz, who was making his first appearance since coming off the 10-day injured list, drove in Marisnick with a pinch-hit RBI single.

Roe mishandled a comebacker later in the inning that scored Bregman and a bases-loaded walk to Springer allowed Diaz to plate the Astros 14th run.

Alvarez hit his second homer of the night off Mike Brosseau, a position player, to make it 15-1 in the seventh. With four runs batted in, Alvarez now has 62 RBI for the season to catapult atop all AL rookies in just 60 games played. Michael Chavis and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. are tied for second with 58 RBI apiece in 95 and 100 games played, respectively.

Alvarez is rapidly approaching legendary status.

He’s also close to becoming the most prodigious rookie slugger in club history.

Oh, right. That tweet was after Yordan’s first homer of the night, so here’s another.

Wendle homered off Brad Peacock in the seventh for the Rays only run of the night. Peacock allowed just the one hit to go with two walks. Collin McHugh walked a batter in his inning of work and Joe Biagini worked around two hits and a walk to complete a scoreless ninth.

Andrew Kittridge gave up three runs on four hits and one walk and Brosseau allowed one run on two hits.

With three more runs Tuesday, Bregman has scored 101 times this season and eclipsed the century mark for the second straight campaign. He is nearing his career high of 105 runs scored, set last year. Bregman has reached base in 20 straight games.

Reddick had three hits, including two for extra bases, as did Bregman and Alvarez. Springer was twice hit by a pitch and reached base five times.

The Astros continued their impressive stretch of home dominance with another win at Minute Maid Park.

They have won five straight.

The 15 runs and 18 hits were the most allowed by the Rays staff in a game this season.

Box score and videos here.

The Astros play the penultimate contest of a season-long 10-game homestand when they host the Rays Wednesday night. Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.75) will take the mound for Houston in the middle game of three against Tampa Bay during this mid-week series. Cole, who led the AL in ERA before Verlander’s outing Tuesday night, looked no worse for the wear in his return from a two-start absence. He tossed seven scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers, striking out 12 and allowing just two hits and tied a franchise-record with his 14th double-digit strikeout game. Cole will enter play Wednesday five strikeouts behind Verlander for the MLB lead. He’s 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA in three career starts against the Rays and 18-4 with a 2.80 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 186 23 innings lifetime at Minute Maid Park. Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.29) will make his ninth start and 23rd appearance for the Rays in 2019. The 27-year-old lefty went 4 13 innings in a no-decision against the Baltimore Orioles in his last start. Yarbrough allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and struck out in that outing. He has a 0.75 ERA over 24 innings this month to go with 28 strikeouts. Yarbrough has faced the Astros once in his career, when he allowed one run in 6 13 innings but took the loss. First pitch Wednesday is slated for 7:10 CT.