Yuli Gurriel, Zack Greinke help Astros beat Athletics

The Astros broke open what had been a tense game with the first-place A’s by scoring three times in the seventh and eighth innings, bolstered by a pair of two-run doubles by Yuli Gurriel en route to an 8-1 win on Wednesday at the Coliseum. That allowed starting pitcher Zack Greinke to breeze through the end of his impressive outing and continue his dominance over Oakland.

Behind Gurriel, who went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, and eight strong innings of one-run ball by Greinke, the Astros won for the seventh time in their last eight games, pulling to within a half-game of first place in the AL West.

Jose Altuve clobbered a first-pitch leadoff homer in the first inning to get the Astros going against Frankie Montas, but it was clutch hitting in the seventh and eighth that allowed them to pull away. Houston scored three times after two outs in the seventh, including a two-run double by Gurriel, to stretch the lead to 5-1. Gurriel had another two-run double in a three-run eighth, opening up an 8-1 lead.

Greinke improved to 5-1 with a 1.84 ERA in seven starts against the A’s while with the Astros. After giving up a leadoff infield single in the third, he sent down 17 of the final 18 batters he faced. Greinke struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter, while throwing 89 pitches.

Here’s a closer look a how Gurriel and Greinke dominated the A’s:

Gurriel goes off
Coming off a miserable 2020 season, Gurriel has been on a mission to prove last year was a fluke — and he’s doing just that. He added to his terrific 2021 campaign by driving in four runs on Wednesday on two-run doubles in consecutive innings, giving him a team-leading 36 RBIs for the season, which ranks second in the Major Leagues to Baltimore’s Trey Mancini (38).

“He’s been awesome all year long, but he’s been clutching up,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s been driving in runs. I don’t know where he is in the league leaders, but he has to be pretty close. He’s determined to show last year was a fluke and he’s worked hard.”

Gurriel is slashing .390/.417/.756 with three homers and 16 RBIs in the Astros’ last 11 games. He’s only struck out twice in 48 plate appearances in that span. He has 20 RBIs in the month of May, which is two shy of his season total last year in 58 games. He’s also hitting .438 in nine games against Oakland this year.

“I felt really bad about my performance last year and I think even if I was 50 percent of what I was capable of doing, we would have maybe been able to reach the World Series,” Gurriel said. “I’ve been focusing a lot on showing who I am.”

Greinke throws heat
In his quest to find a way to get right-handed hitters out more effectively (they have a .797 OPS against him this year), Greinke came up with a simple game plan: throw harder. He touched 92.7 mph with his fastball in the first inning — his hardest of the season — and wound up averaging 90 mph on the pitch, which was a spike from the 88.5 mph average he had coming into the season.

“We don’t understand it,” Baker said. “I don’t even know if he understands it. He was throwing harder. He shocked us up there with a couple 92s, 93s, but he was throwing great with great execution. He said the wind helped him. He was probably joking, but he threw the ball great. He gave us everything we wanted and needed.”

A 1-2-3 first inning set the tone for the rest of the night, with Greinke giving up back-to-back hits in the second, an infield hit in the third and only one more baserunner the rest of the way. That came on a one-out single in the sixth as Greinke flirted with his first complete game in exactly four years — May 19, 2017.

“I’ve been having trouble getting right-handers out this year and last year and they have a lot of righties in their lineup,” Greinke said. “I just tried to make good pitches and tried to throw a little bit harder, hoping that might help out some. I definitely didn’t expect to have as good an outing as I did going into it.”

The signature at-bat of the night came against Ramón Laureano– 6-for-14 against Greinke in his career — in the fourth. Greinke started him off with an 82.8 mph slider for a strike and followed with a 61.4 mph curveball for a ball. He ramped it up from there, throwing a 73.4 mph curve for a strike and getting him to swing through a 91.3 mph fastball for the strikeout.

“I remember that at-bat because I was going to try to show him slow early and hard late, which is something I don’t do very often, and it worked,” Greinke said. “That was nice.”

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