ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With a matchup of three-time Cy Young Award winners looming in the finale of a key series with rival Texas, Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros have mashed their way back to a familiar spot.
The defending World Series champions are alone atop the AL West for the first time all season.
Altuve homered in each of the first three innings, starting with a pair off All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi in his return from the injured list, and the Astros pummeled the Rangers 14-1 on Tuesday night.
Altuve had homers in four consecutive at-bats — in four straight innings, no less — going back to the ninth inning of Houston’s 13-6 victory in the series opener.
“I don’t recall,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said when asked if he’d ever seen three homers from a player in the first three innings. “Probably not. Barry Bonds, maybe.”
Martín Maldonado hit two homers and slugger Yordan Alvarez connected for his 24th as the defending World Series champion Astros set a Globe Life Field record with six long balls while wrapping up a third consecutive series win over the Rangers.
Houston took a one-game lead over Seattle atop the AL West, which the Astros have won five times in the past six seasons.
Texas, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2016, has lost 14 of 18 games and is two back, a season high, for the second time since a run of 140 consecutive days atop the division ended in late August.
There would be no surprise in a pitcher’s duel with ace right-handers Max Scherzer of Texas and Houston’s Justin Verlander set to face off in Wednesday’s finale. But the Astros will go into that game having produced 27 runs and 11 homers in the first two games.
“We made a lot of (mistakes), and they left the ballpark,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s a good club over there. You make mistakes, you’re probably going to pay for it.”
The third homer — and 15th of the season to cap Altuve’s first career three-homer game — was to center field off Dane Dunning, a starter who came out of the bullpen so the Rangers could get Eovaldi back on the mound without a rehab appearance coming off a right forearm strain.
Altuve’s run of four consecutive homers ended with a groundout against Dunning in the fifth. He struck out in the seventh, after which he was replaced at second base by Grae Kessinger, who singled leading off the ninth.
Houston’s star second baseman homered twice in the series opener, giving him consecutive multi-homer games for the first time in his career. He was the first Astro to do that since Richard Hidalgo in 2000.
The Astros had back-to-back homers from the No. 9 and leadoff spots twice in the series opener with Mauricio Dubón and Altuve. They did it again in the third inning with Maldonado’s two-run shot and the third solo blast from Altuve, which put Houston up 9-0 and capped a third consecutive three-run inning.
“We had some guys have big days,” Baker said.
“When you gets 20 hits, most of the guys have big days.”
Framber Valdez (11-9) allowed one run on six hits with four walks and four strikeouts in seven innings. The All-Star left-hander ended a three-game losing streak against the Rangers.
Eovaldi (11-4) allowed four runs while getting four outs, with José Abreu and Chas McCormick driving in a run apiece in the first inning. It was expected to be a short outing since Eovaldi hadn’t faced live hitters since Aug. 21.
Eovaldi was leading the AL in ERA and tied for the league lead in wins when he went on the injured list following a victory in a start against Tampa Bay seven weeks ago.
“I think you saw a guy that missed a lot of time,” Bochy said. “It was good to see him out there, I’ll start with that. But it was obvious he was missing spots there, and that’s unlike him. This is part of the first step of getting him back to where he’ll be.”
DEJA VU FOR HISTORY
Austin Hedges became the first position player in Texas Rangers history to pitch in consecutive games. The catcher, throwing pitches ranging from 47.6 to 54.1 mph, recorded a scoreless the ninth after getting the final two outs without allowing a baserunner in the series opener.
Astros: RHP Ryne Stanek said he expected to miss at least a couple of weeks after injuring his right ankle covering first base in the ninth inning of the series opener. He said the ankle wasn’t broken, and was waiting for what an MRI would show.
Rangers: RHP Josh Sborz went on the 15-day injured list with a left hamstring issue. The move came a day after Sborz allowed six runs while getting just one out in the 13-6 loss in the series opener.
Verlander and Scherzer are set to pitch against each other for the first time in their long careers in the series finale. They are the active leaders in strikeouts and hold two of the top three spots among active pitchers in victories.
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