MINNEAPOLIS – Chas McCormick had four RBIs, Hunter Brown combined on a two-hitter and the Houston Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 5-1 Sunday to salvage the series finale.
The World Series champions are 4-6 after winning for just the second time in seven games.
Mauricio Dubón had two hits and scored two runs, while Jeremy Peña and Yainer Diaz each had two hits for the Astros, who avoided a three-game sweep.
McCormick drove a high, outside slider the opposite way for a two-out, two-run homer in the third. In his next at-bat, he muscled a high fastball up the middle for a two-out, two-run, broken-bat single and a 4-1 lead.
“I just had to get on top of the ball. I felt like I was crashing a little bit,” said McCormick, who replaced Peña as the Astros’ leadoff hitter on Saturday. “Those balls up in the zone, I’ve been kind of rolling over, so all day I felt like I was getting pitches up in the zone and I made adjustments. I’m happy to get some two-out knocks. ”
Brown (1-1) allowed an unearned run and two hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts and two walks, rebounding from a shaky first start in which he gave up four earned runs and didn’t get out of the fifth inning against Detroit.
Brown reached 98.2 mph with his fastball, mixing 28 fastballs, 35 sliders, 33 knuckle-curves and one splitter.
“That bodes good for his confidence, for his next start and then after that,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Hopefully he can just get on a roll there, because you don’t depend on the bottom of your rotation to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation guy, you depend on them to give you innings and give you quality, and it was great to stop that streak.”
Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly each worked a scoreless inning for Houston, which entered the series with seven wins in its previous eight games at Minnesota.
Tyler Mahle (1-1) gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings.
“I think he looked relatively sharp, mostly. But I think there are some pitches he would want back,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
“They hit a home run to the opposite field on a slider on the outer edge of the plate – that’s a big swing by them, too,” he added. “When you look at it, those are defining plays in the outcome of the game. They got it done. We didn’t really muster enough offensively to get it going.”
Donovan Solano had an RBI single in the fourth after Byron Buxton singled and advanced on third baseman Alex Bregman‘s throwing error.
Peña added a run-scoring double in the eighth off Emilio Pagán.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
McCormick knows he’s only temporarily holding down the leadoff spot while second baseman Jose Altuve recovers from a broken thumb sustained during the World Baseball Classic. Still, he was taking notes the last two seasons with his front-row view of Altuve filling that important role for the Astros.
“You want to get the boys rolling, you want to be that spark plug,” McCormick said. “I’ve been watching Altuve do that for a couple of years now, and it can really turn a game around. … My job is to get on base as the leadoff. I’m happy Dusty gave me the call, put me in that spot. I’ve got a long way to go, though.”
Houston’s Kyle Tucker was ejected in the eighth inning by plate umpire Mark Carlson. Tucker hit a bases-loaded grounder to second baseman Nick Gordon, who threw home for a forceout. Catcher Ryan Jeffers’ throw hit Tucker on on elbow, and Tucker was called out by Carlson, apparently for being outside the runner’s lane when hit. As manager Dusty Baker came out to argue, Tucker apparently said something to the umpire that triggered the ejection.
“That’s always a rule of contention because you have to run outside the line, but then you have to go back inside to touch the bag at some point, because the bag’s in fair territory,” Baker said. “That’s a tough way to get ejected out of the game – I don’t blame him. But a rule is a rule.”
After Saturday’s loss, Baker led a contingent of from the team’s traveling party to U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, for a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
“My spirit needed that,” said the 73-year-old Baker, whose defending World Series champions lost six of their first nine games this season.
Baker went backstage and even got a shoutout on Twitter from the band’s bassist, Flea. Baker said he’d previously been introduced to Flea by musically inclined pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who played for Baker in Cincinnati.
Astros: LHP Framber Valdez (0-1, 1.50 ERA) will take the mound as Houston opens a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Monday. Valdez has allowed just two runs over 12 innings in his first two starts.
Twins: RHP Kenta Maeda (0-1, 1.80) makes his second start of the season on Monday afternoon as the Twins welcome the White Sox to Target Field to start a three-game series. Maeda, who missed the 2022 season after Tommy John surgery, gave up one run and struck out nine in five innings at Miami in his return on April 4.