Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – In a rematch of the teams’ American League Division Series matchup last fall, the Astros didn’t seem haunted by memories of an infamous Game 4 collapse to the Royals.
Instead, on Opening Night of a 17th season in Minute Maid Park, Houston just built a more insurmountable lead.
Collin McHugh tossed seven shutout innings and Colby Rasmus spurred a three-run opening salvo with a two-run homer en route to an 8-2 romp for the home squad.
“It felt like we were almost right back in a playoff game, which was cool,” Rasmus said. “Those are fun games to play when there’s that much excitement. It was a blast.”
Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve each cranked out three hits, embodying a balanced offensive effort that included eight of nine Astros hitters reaching base.
“We worked in tandems very well today, we ran the bases aggressively today and we played with a chip on our shoulder based on just feeding off the home crowd,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
But it was McHugh who was the bedrock, a staunch departure from his 2016 debut effort in New York last week. Then, the righty didn’t last the first inning while allowing five earned runs and recording just one measly out. His ERA after that? A cartoonish 135.00.
That was ancient history by the end of Monday night. McHugh was in command from the start, recording just his 13th 1-2-3 first inning in his last 14 starts. The tone was set.
“I was focused on getting through that first inning today,” McHugh said with a laugh. “After that, it was ‘Get after them’ the rest of the way.”
Meanwhile, Houston never stopped hitting Kansas City starter Chris Young. Correa laced an opposite-field double to plate Altuve — who singled and stole second on Young’s first two pitches — and Rasmus followed with an upper-deck shot for his third homer this season.
It was a quick affirmation, especially after a frustrating 2-4 start on the road: The Astros still belong at least in the same conversation with the defending World Series champs.
“When we come out and hit like that, it looks like we’re really good,” Altuve said. “We’re going to try to be consistent with it now.”
From there, the Astros went in cruise control, a welcome but frankly boring sight for the 43,332 who packed the streets around the ballpark for hours beforehand. Many had left by the eighth inning with a 7-0 lead, when Tony Sipp briefly reignited those Game 4 memories by grooving a two-run homer for Kendrys Morales.
But Sipp retired the next three, halting any further notion of a relapse against the vigilant Royals lineup. The worry was also briefly heightened only an inning earlier, when the Royals loaded the bases with one out against McHugh. The righty induced a pair of popouts to quiet the threat.
“There was a moment in that game where they were one swing away from making it very, very interesting, and [McHugh] closed the door,” Hinch said.
Added McHugh: “They’re a lineup that never gives up and they showed that again tonight, but our guys keep banging it. When we as a starting staff can put together good outings and keep our team in the game, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The bottom of the order came through in the fourth, as Luis Valbuena and Jason Castro were largely responsible for doubling Houston’s advantage to 6-0.
Valbuena’s two bagger to the right-center gap brought Preston Tucker home, and a struggling Castro finally unleashed his first extra-base hit this season with a RBI triple off the bullpen gate. Castro was a measly 1-for-18 (.055) with a lone bunt single against the shift prior to that at-bat.
Though the Astros’ offense has been fairly prolific already, Houston desperately needs production from the catcher spot thanks to some early pitching woes. They could get some soon, as the team called up DH/catcher Evan Gattis — fresh off a rehab stint in Corpus Christi after the game. He’ll continue a catching program to work his way into time behind the dish, Hinch said after the game.
Correa added a single in the sixth, and he’s now hitting .357 with six RBI through seven games. Tyler White, fresh off AL Player of the Week honors in his debut week, went 2-for-4 during his first regular season home game.
“It was a little overwhelming the first [at-bat] but I settled in after that and felt good,” White said.
The Royals and Astros continue this playoff rematch with three more games this week. Mike Fiers will face Kris Medlan on Tuesday night.