McCullers, Altuve propel Astros past reeling Marlins
MIAMI — Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers paid tribute to the late Jose Fernandez on Wednesday afternoon in a way the former Marlins star would appreciate.
He put up zeroes.
Helped on offense by Jose Altuve’s four extra-base hits, McCullers pitched six scoreless innings to lead Houston to a 3-0 win over Miami at Marlins Park.
The Astros (29-12) own the best record in the majors and have won 15 of their past 19 games. This was their first three-game sweep of the season, and it ended a 5-1 road trip.
Fernandez, who died in boat crash this past September, played his high school ball in Tampa. He and McCullers were teammates for several years on a travel-ball team, the Tampa Bay Warriors.
McCullers (4-1), wearing Fernandez’s No. 16 on his cleats as a tribute, allowed three hits and two walks. He also extended his streak of not allowing an earned run to 20 1/3 consecutive innings.
“I know he is here in spirit,” McCullers said of Fernandez. “And he would want me to go out there and pitch my game and in that way celebrate him and pitching.”
McCullers had quite a few family members in the stands on Wednesday, which just added to his amped-up psyche.
“There was emotion for me pre-game,” he admitted. “I was nervous before today’s start.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said McCullers handled it all very well.
“I was proud of Lance,” Hinch said. “This was a difficult start for him on a lot of levels. I know it meant a lot to him to pitch on this mound and in this ballpark.
“He did a lot right. He did it with a lot of emotion. When you are around these guys every day, you get a sense of when it means a little more to them.”
It was that kind of series for the Astros, who seemingly had at least one hero every night that had ties to Miami or the Marlins.
On Monday, it was Cuban native and Miami resident Yuli Gurriel who hit a grand slam. On Tuesday, it was former Marlins outfielder Jake Marisnick, who hit two homers and a double, driving in four runs. Then it was McCullers.
Meanwhile, Miami (14-25) has had precious few heroes this season.
The Marlins ended their dreadful homestand with a 1-8 record. The Marlins have lost 17 of their past 21 games and are in last place in the National League East. They also have one of the two worst records in the majors.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been through (a stretch) like this,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “This is extended. At some point, we’ve just got to play better.”
Altuve went 4-for-5 with two triples, two doubles and one RBI. Houston’s other batting hero was George Springer, who went 2-for-5 with two RBIs.
Springer led off the game with a double over a leaping Giancarlo Stanton in right field. With one out, Altuve bounced a double down the third-base line that bounced over the glove of Derek Dietrich, scoring Springer and giving Houston a 1-0 lead.
It was the fourth first-inning run scored in this series by Houston and its 10th in the last four games.
The Astros scored two unearned runs in the sixth to extend their lead to 3-0. With two outs, Alex Bregman singled and advanced to second when Marisnick was hit by a pitch. Miami should have escaped the jam when McCullers hit a bouncer to Dee Gordon at second.
However, Gordon fielded the ball and flipped to rookie shortstop JT Riddle, who didn’t have his footwork in order and failed to make the grab.
Gordon was given the throwing error, and Houston cashed in on a two-run single by Springer, whose shot got past diving first baseman Justin Bour.
Gordon said he should have gone to first base with the ball.
“That was a mental mistake on my part,” he said. “I made a dumb play. It’s my fault we lost the game.”
NOTES: Astros SS Marwin Gonzalez went 0-for-3 and had his 11-game hit streak snapped. ... Miami dropped to 6-2 when C A.J. Ellis starts. ... Miami recalled INF Christian Colon, RHP Brian Ellington and RHP Odrisamer Despaigne from Triple-A New Orleans. Miami optioned RHP Tom Koehler to New Orleans, placed RHP Junichi Tazawa on the disabled list and designated INF Mike Aviles for assignment. ... Of the five starters that began the season in Miami’s rotation, Koehler and LHP Adam Conley have been demoted to New Orleans, LHP Wei-Yin Chen is on the disabled list, RHP Edinson Volquez is winless (0-5) and RHP Dan Straily has one win. ... Houston rested SS Carlos Correa, whose 46 homers are the second most in MLB history for a shortstop younger than 23. Only Alex Rodriguez had more. ... Houston rested Brian McCann, who is 11th in MLB history with 238 homers by a catcher. McCann has 25 RBIs, tops among AL catchers. ... Miami starts a six-game road trip on Thursday night at the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... Houston starts a 10-game homestand on Friday vs. the Cleveland Indians.