Pitching in the ballpark where Mike Minor made his first major league start four years ago, Minor came in search of his first win in more than a month.
He left Minute Maid Park Thursday, still on the lookout.
Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez hit a three-run home run to left field on a two-out 0-2 fastball from Minor in the fifth inning, spoiling his day with a 6-1 loss and salvaging the final game of a three-game series for the Astros.
“I’d like to have one pitch back really,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said afterward. “That was the 0-2 pitch to Dominguez is a three-run homer. That’s the one that you look back over the course of the game when you’re dissecting it and you go ‘We get that, we keep it within one or two runs, it’s a different story.’ All of a sudden it became a four-run game there. And it was an 0-2 pitch. That makes it even tougher.”
The Braves had won the first two games of the series to pull back within one game of the NL East-leading Nationals, but they headed to Philadelphia back down by 1 ½ games pending the Nationals game Thursday night.
The Braves will spend the weekend looking for some redemption against the Phillies, who swept them at Turner Field last week. The Braves will play four games in three days this weekend in Philadelphia, including a doubleheader on Saturday. The Braves play 10 of their next 13 games back in the NL East, where faces are a lot more familiar than they have been in Houston.
The Astros lineup might lack some star power, but it was plenty effective against Minor, piling up five runs on seven hits, two walks and a hit batter in his six innings. Jose Altuve is a pretty recognizable figure, and more so after the series. The second baseman from Venezuela added to his majors’ leading hit total (107) with two more hits, he stole two bases and scored two runs.
George Springer has introduced himself to the major league scene by hitting 15 home runs, the most by an Astros rookie before the All-Star break since Lance Berkman had 12 in 2000. Springer homered twice in this series, once off Aaron Harang on Tuesday and again Thursday when he turned on a 98 mph fastball from rookie Juan Jaime.
But it was the home run ball by Dominguez that changed the complexion of the game. Minor had given up a run each in the first and fourth innings and still held the Astros right there. But with two outs and Altuve on first base in the fifth inning that changed. As Altuve stole second and third base, Minor walked Springer. That brought Dominguez up with runners at the corners. He swung and missed at two fastballs from Minor before connecting on the third.
“I got Dominguez earlier in the day with the strikeout in,” Minor said. “And I went two more in and he swung through them. That was four-seamers. The last one was a two-seamer that came back (over the plate).”
Minor is 0-3 with a 4.89 ERA over his past seven starts, since his last win against the Brewers on May 19.
This was the fourth straight start in which Minor had allowed a home run, but this one the Braves couldn’t rally back from. They’d won each of his previous starts in large part because they scored 26 runs total (13 of those came in Colorado.)
The Braves got two more hits from Justin Upton on Thursday, who has heated back up after three days in Houston, hitting a pair of long home runs in the series. But when they had runners first and second with nobody out in the seventh, he popped out to first and the Braves let Jarred Cosart off the hook.
Chris Johnson struck out on a nine-pitch at-bat and Andrelton Simmons followed with a groundout.
The Braves started the game by manufacturing a run in the first inning. For all the flak that manager Fredi Gonzalez has taken for batting B.J. Upton leadoff in the three games of this series, that’s what he looked like to start the game Thursday – working a seven-pitch at-bat against Cosart before singling to right field.
He stole second, drawing a wild throw, and advanced to third on the play. From there he scored easily on a sacrifice fly from Tommy La Stella. But that would be the Braves’ last run of the day.
“We’ve tried to play a little bit of small ball with our run scoring struggles, and we’ve done a pretty good job of it,” Justin Upton said. “Just today it didn’t work out for us and we didn’t get the big ball either. It just didn’t happen for us.”