Like a cat toying with a mouse, the Astros playfully poked and batted at the Baltimore Orioles for six hours and came away with two victories, 4-3 and 5-2, to reach 103 wins - the most regular season triumphs in franchise history with one more yet to be played.
Correa: FINALLY goes deep
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When the O's ambushed Joe Smith in the opener with a three-run homer by D.J. Stewart in the seventh and denied Justin Verlander his 18th win after six frames of three-hit shutout pitching that included 10 strikeouts to end his regular season at 290, the Astros seemed to shrug then let Carlos Correa - who has been dreadful over the past three months - smash a game-winning double in the ninth to take the contest. Not even a high-wire act from Carlos Rondon in the ninth could keep Houston from their appointed victory over the hapless Birds.
The nightcap also had its drama. Baltimore crept within 3-2 late before Jake Marisnick raked a two-run blast in the eighth to give the Astros a three-run cushion for Ryan Pressly to add his second save.
The twin triumphs set a franchise record for wins held by the 1998 Astros. It's the third time the Astros have won 100 or more games in a season and the second year in a row.
Verlander, who has chronically lacked run support from the Astros this year, had none again for the first five innings of the opener. When Tony Kemp drew a leadoff walk in the sixth off Dylan Bundy, George Springer took the opportunity to launch a two-run homer into the left-center stands. Correa took advantage by sending Bundy's next offering into the right-center stands - a line drive homer that put the Astros ahead, 3-0. It was Correa's first home run since August 24th and just his second since injuring his back in June.
After Verlander's mastery, his lead vanished four batters into Smith's relief stint. The game stayed tied until there were two outs in the ninth. That's when Springer coaxed a free pass from Sean Gilmartin and Correa came up the hero - his liner to right-center skipped to the fence while Springer hustled all the way around from first to scored the game-winner without a throw.
Rondon entered in the ninth and proceeded to give up singles to the first two batters he faced. Rondon recovered by making Renato Nunez rap into a 5-3 double play then striking out Stewart for his 15th save.
Myles Straw got the nightcap started with his first big league homer - a fly to dead center off Yefry Ramirez. The Orioles answered in the second with an RBI single by Austin Wynns off Dallas Keuchel. Marisnick walked with the bases full in the fourth to put Houston up, 2-1.
Brian McCann tagged a pitch in the sixth for a solo homer. Framber Valdez relieved Brad Peacock and pitched 2-1/3rd innings. Lance McCullers entered in the seventh but allowed the second Baltimore run to score on a wild pitch. Marisnick capped the scoring with his homer in the eighth.
Sunday's season finale has a 2:05 p.m. Central start time, perhaps to snag some NFL fans disgusted with the first half of their games and willing to change channels. Proud papa Charlie Morton (15-3) will be after his 16th victory and to test his sore right shoulder. The Orioles plan to draw names out of a hat for who pitches.
- Bob Hulsey