The Punxsutawney Spirit
Astros push winning streak to 11, roll past Nationals 6-1
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jose Altuve homered on the first pitch of the game, and Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel also went deep to help the Houston Astros extend their winning streak to 11 games with a 6-1 rout of the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
Houston manager Dusty Baker, who led Washington to consecutive NL East titles in 2016 and '17, won in his first game back at Nationals Park since he was fired after two seasons.
Framber Valdez (2-2) allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings to earn his first victory since April 7 and help extend the Astros’ pitching dominance. Houston has allowed just 12 runs during its streak with an 0.91 ERA in that stretch.
Washington has lost seven of its last nine and is 4-14 at home. Its 11-23 record after 34 games is its worst since opening 9-25 in 2007.
Baker was 192-132 in his two seasons in Washington, but was fired after the Nationals lost in the division series both years. He was introduced on the video board about 10 minutes before the first pitch Friday and was cheered by the smattering of early arriving fans.
It was the first meeting that counted between the franchises — who share a spring training facility — since the 2019 World Series. Dave Martinez, Baker’s successor, led the Nationals to their first championship in a series that saw the road team win all seven games.
Houston promptly made itself at home again in the nation’s capital, with Altuve belting Josiah Gray’s first offering to dead center for his third leadoff homer of the season and 24th of his career. Gurriel’s two-run homer capped a five-run first for the Astros, and Alvarez's solo shot in the third made it 6-0.
Gray (4-3) allowed six runs and six hits in six innings while striking out five.
Valdez struck out six during his longest outing of the year, yielding his only run on Alcides Escobar’s fielder’s choice grounder in the seventh.
Astros: SS Jeremy Peña did not play, a day after leaving the second game of a doubleheader at Minnesota with a knee injury. “Hopefully, he’ll be available in this series, but I’m not exactly sure when,” Baker said.
Nationals: Escobar, who missed three games with an infected nail on his left index finger, returned to the lineup.
The thing that stood out most to Baker in his first trip to Nationals Park since 2017? The amount of construction.
“They’ve done a lot of building around here,” Baker said. “I wish I had invested in some of that, or some big cranes.”
Justin Verlander tossed Houston’s last no-hitter in 2019, but the Astros came within five outs of a combined no-no last year in Baltimore. However, umpire Angel Hernandez missed a called third strike on Maikel Franco, who proceeded to homer on the next pitch.
Hernandez worked at second base Friday, which means he’s in line to start Verlander’s scheduled start Sunday. And sure enough, Franco will be there, too; he’s Washington’s everyday third baseman this season.
Washington wore its dark blue alternate jerseys for the first time this season. The Nationals used the same jerseys throughout the 2019 World Series against the Astros, including in their Game 7 victory.
Astros: RHP Cristian Javier (2-0, 0.83 ERA) has thrown 8 1/3 shutout innings this month and opponents are hitting .153 against him in 21 2/3 innings this season.