July 5, 2022

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Astros erupt for 14 hits in Toronto slugfest

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TORONTO — This offense wasn’t built to slump for long. 

On the heels of a quiet day for their bats, the Astros retrieved their eruptive form on Friday, matching their season high with 14 hits en route to an 11-7 win over the Blue Jays.

Skids were snapped, pitching struggles were overcome, and the Astros opened the three-game series with a crucial, eventful win at Rogers Centre to improve to 11-9 and inch closer to the top of the American League West. They needed every single hack, too.

“I have a lot of faith in this club,” said first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who finished the night with three hits, two of which were doubles. “We’ve always hit well, and we know that we have time. It’s still the beginning of the season.”

The timely hitting became even more important in a game where both starting pitchers stumbled.

Astros starter José Urquidy yielded four runs on four hits, including a hanging slider in the middle of the plate that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. crushed for a three-run homer. That blast was hardly the only hard contact Urquidy allowed over his five innings of work, too. The Blue Jays put up a great offensive game of their own, especially against his trusted fastball.

“Those guys can hit. They don’t quit,” said Dusty Baker following his career win No. 1,998 as a manager. “You’ve just got to keep playing and keep adding … because you never know which score will be the deciding score.”

Urquidy struck out six, walked a batter, allowed seven hits and watched his season ERA inflate to 5.95. It isn’t necessarily the pitching line you would expect for the game’s winner, but Urquidy’s teammates more than made up for his struggles on the other side. 

The Astros set the tone early, chasing Blue Jays left-hander Yusei Kikuchi after 2 2/3 innings, including an Alex Bregman solo shot in the first and three more runs off Kikuchi in the third. Despite some early swings and misses, the offense made plenty of hard contact with whatever Toronto’s left-hander threw their way. 

“I knew [the offense] was going to come sooner or later,” said Baker. “We’ve got some guys swinging better.”

Siri, who entered Friday in an 0-for-19 funk, was hastily added to the starting lineup after Michael Brantley landed in MLB’s health and safety protocols roughly an hour before the game. By the end of the day on Friday, Siri had two doubles and a run scored.

Peña hit his fourth home run of the season, a three-run shot in the sixth inning to start off a five-run frame that put the game out of reach. He walked up to the box and wasted no time crushing the first pitch he saw from Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards, a 93 mph fastball up in the zone.

“He doesn’t take his bat to the field or his glove to the plate,” said Bregman of Peña. “He’s very good at compartmentalizing and locking in on whether he’s on defense or offense. … He’s super mature.”

But the Blue Jays are an offensive powerhouse in their own right, and kept chasing the Astros on the scoreboard until Peña and Yordan Alvarez, who also homered, came through in the sixth. With Urquidy stumbling his way through five innings, the Astros had to complement their elite offensive night with some stellar defensive plays.

Peña shone on that side of the ball once again. He was perfectly positioned in the bottom of the sixth inning to field a Guerrero Jr. ground ball that left his bat at 116 mph and would have scored two runs had it gotten past him. 

“That ball caught me,” Peña joked after the game. “I mean, Vladdy hits the ball hard. I got a good step on it.” 

This was exactly the kind of outing the Astros needed after a tight win over the Rangers, in which they didn’t get on base until the seventh inning. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was closer to what the team believes it can be in the batter’s box and on the field. 

“We have a great team,” said Peña. “We have great ballplayers, great hitters and defense. It’s fun to be a part of it. Let’s keep it rolling tomorrow.”

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