HOUSTON — Right fielder George Springer capped his return to the top spot in the batting order with a third career multi-homer game but was overshadowed by three games worth of remarkable Astros pitching.
The Houston Astros set a major league record for strikeouts over a three-game series while completing a series sweep of the Baltimore Orioles with a 4-2 victory on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
Springer hit his 10th and 11th homers in support of right-hander Lance McCullers (1-1). McCullers and three relievers combined for 15 strikeouts, helping Houston (20-28) complete the series with a whopping 52 strikeouts. Washington pitchers recorded 47 strikeouts of the Twins April 22-24.
“The bullpen and our rotation really did a great job of finishing at-bats,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s not surprising me but maybe the consistency of the strikeouts was very unique this series. That’s not an easy team to strike out either. They’re very potent.”
Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena also homered off Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman (0-2). Houston right-hander Ken Giles, working for a third consecutive game, notched his first save with the Astros despite allowing a two-out, RBI single to Manny Machado in the ninth.
Machado recorded the lone hit among the top three batters in the Baltimore order, with Machado, Joey Rickard and Chris Davis combining to finish 1-for-11 with four walks and six strikeouts. The Orioles (26-19) managed just five hits while suffering their first sweep on the season.
“Guys don’t want any excuses,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Nobody wants to hear about excuses and our guys are the last to use them, so it’s not just one person, it’s been a challenge for all of us even some guys who are normally good contact hitters.”
McCullers set the stage for his interesting outing almost immediately, walking the first two batters he faced before stranding both Rickard and Machado in scoring position to close the first inning.
McCullers opened the second by allowing his lone hit, a towering home run to left by Mark Trumbo that pulled the Orioles even at 1-1. From there, McCullers was all over the map, striking out two batters in the third and fourth inning before striking out the side — all swinging — in the fifth while also walking the bases loaded.
On his 108th and final pitch, McCullers got Matt Wieters on a breaking ball to leave the bases loaded in the fifth. He finished with 10 strikeouts against six walks and that lone run coming off the Trumbo solo blast.
Gausman was neither as wild nor as overpowering. Having allowed just three home runs in his previous six starts this season, Gausman surrendered that many in five inconsistent innings.
Springer smacked his first leadoff homer since June 19, 2015, on the second pitch in the first, a 430-foot blast to left field. Three batters into the second, Valbuena struck for a third consecutive game with his two-run shot to right, his fifth homer overall giving the Astros a 3-1 lead.
With one out in the fifth, Springer launched a 443-foot shot to left that extended the lead to 4-1. He closed the series 6-for-12 with three RBIs.
“I understand who I am as a hitter and who I have behind me,” Springer said. “The most important thing is to get to first base and see what happens.”
Gausman recorded seven strikeouts and walked just one batter, but his walk of Astros first baseman Tyler White preceded the Valbuena home run, which represented a bit of bad timing.
“All of us are looking forward to getting out of here and going to Cleveland and hit the ground running,” Gausman said. “We’re all kind of scuffling right now.”