Astros pound 4 homers, with a pair by Abreu, to rout Twins 9-1 and take 2-1 ALDS lead

Houston Astros' Jose Abreu connects for a three-run home run in the first inning during Game 3 of an American League Division Series baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhorn)

MINNEAPOLIS — Late-afternoon shadows made the ball difficult to pick up, and Minnesota’s Sonny Gray presented a tough opponent on the mound.

The Houston Astros just powered their way through and produced yet another October masterpiece.

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José Abreu hit a three-run homer for Houston in a four-run first inning against Gray and piled on with a two-run shot in the ninth, carrying the Astros past the Twins 9-1 on Tuesday for a 2-1 AL Division Series lead.

Yordan Alvarez hit his fourth home run in three games and Alex Bregman had a homer and an RBI single for the defending World Series champions, who took charge from their first at-bat and moved within one win of a seventh consecutive AL Championship Series appearance. Astros starter Cristian Javier took it from there with nine strikeouts in five scoreless innings.

“It was kind of just pass the torch to the next guy,” said Bregman, who has 16 postseason homers. “Put together a good at-bat and grind it out.”

Game 4 is at Target Field on Wednesday. If the Twins force Game 5, it would be in Houston on Friday.

“This was one of the reasons why I signed with this organization, to be in the best situation and compete,” said Abreu, who set his low with a .237 average this season, nearly 50 points below his career mark.

Splitting the first two games in Houston gave the Twins home-field advantage, and they sold out both games three days in advance. Johan Santana threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Joe Mauer, and the crowd the Twins credited for carrying them to a two-game sweep of Toronto in the AL Wild Card Series was roaring from the start.

The Astros were hardly going to be fazed by the environment. They went 51-30 on the road, the third-best record in the major leagues, and have made October games quite a habit since their run started in 2017.

“It’s a very confident club, not a cocky club. We don’t showboat too much. We just play,” manager Dusty Baker said. “The guys have a knack of picking each other up.”

Javier had a 4.56 ERA that was by far his worst in four big league seasons and failed to finish five innings in five of his prior 11 starts, but the Astros weren’t concerned.

“He has a slow heartbeat. He wants the baseball,” Bregman said. “He’s a competitor and we have all the confidence in the world in him every single time he takes the mound.”

The right-hander, who threw six hitless innings in World Series Game 4 last year to beat Philadelphia, lowered his career postseason ERA to 1.91 over 37 2/3 innings.

“Their guy did what I didn’t do. He executed pitches in spots with runners on,” Gray said.

With 13 misses in 16 swings at Javier’s slider, the Twins flailed through the shadows in a feeble response to the early Astros explosion. Javier allowed one hit, a one-out double by Max Kepler in the first, but he stranded two runners in scoring position with consecutive strikeouts of Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa.

With five walks and one hit batter, the Twins had plenty of opportunities to catch up.

They loaded the bases on walks in the fifth inning, but Kepler and Lewis ended the inning with strikeouts.

The Twins left nine men on base and went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Correa, who has a hit in all five postseason games and is 9 for 19 with four RBIs, scored on Willi Castro’s one-out single in the sixth. But Jeremy Peña made a diving stop at shortstop of a grounder rocketed by Ryan Jeffers and leaped to his feet to start a double play.

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