HOUSTON – The Astros do more than deliver double-digit beatdowns, the Twins found out on Sunday.
The Astros fell behind early but recovered largely because injured Byron Buxton was not in center field, then used their speed and savvy to finish off the Twins 5-3 to win the weekend series.
The Twins returned home feeling they acquitted themselves better than they did in May, when Houston scored 40 runs against them while sweeping three games at Target Field.
“Today was kind of a tossup,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “We make a couple plays, we could have come out of here winning two out of three games.”
But this isn’t the time for encouraging pats on the back or to pass out the orange slices for participation. The Twins still have the Yankees this week at Target Field and travel to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers next week. It’s an important stretch of games that will test the Twins’ legitimacy as contenders.
Where the Twins failed to make plays Sunday, the Astros succeeded.
Houston righthander Mike Fiers held the Twins to two runs on four hits over seven innings while striking out a season-high 11 batters. Fiers (6-4) struck out eight Twins over the first four innings before breaking out his curveball to help with the final three.
That enabled the Astros to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth and then run their way into two insurance runs in the seventh.
Jake Marisnick worked an 11-pitch walk off Twins righthander Kyle Gibson, pushing Gibson’s pitch count to 107 and forcing manager Paul Molitor out of the dugout to bring in Trevor Hildenberger.
Marisnick stole second, then watched George Springer ground out to Eduardo Escobar at third. As soon as Escobar threw to first, Marisnick took off for third. First baseman Kennys Vargas caught the throw for the out but threw wildly back to third, an error that allowed Marisnick to score.
“When I pulled the ball out of my glove, it was slipping out of my fingers as I threw,” Vargas said.
Jose Altuve followed with a ground-rule double to left, and Molitor inserted lefthander Buddy Boshers. Molitor warned Boshers about watching Altuve, but the All-Star second baseman still stole third. As Boshers struck out Josh Reddick, the ball bounced off catcher Chris Gimenez’s pads and in front of home plate. Gimenez scrambled to pick up the ball, looked at Altuve, then threw to first. But Altuve took off for home as soon as Gimenez threw. Vargas’ throw, this time, was on line, but late. And Houston had a three-run lead.
“They made some real aggressive plays, intuitive,” Molitor said. “They put pressure on us, and we couldn’t stop them.”
Vargas and Ehire Adrianza hit homers off Fiers as the Twins led 2-1 in the third. That advantage vanished for good in the fourth when the first two batters reached against Gibson.
Gibson (5-8) struck out Alex Bregman for the first out, then had Nori Aoki down 1-2 when he left a slider over too much of the plate and gave up a shot to center.
Eddie Rosario, who was playing shallow, initially broke more toward right field than back. The ball, of course, landed just outside of his reach and two runs scored, giving the Astros a 3-2 lead. Buxton, arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game, likely catches that ball.
“We are all spoiled when Byron is out there,” Molitor said. “It looks a little different when someone else is out there.”