CLEVELAND -- The Indians have one glaring weak spot in their rotation, and the Astros took advantage of it on Monday night. In a 6-2 victory over Cleveland, Houston rookie Alex Bregman launched a key home run and helped his offense capitalize on the Tribe's bullpen day.
Without a clear fifth starter, the American League Central-leading Indians used an all-hands-on-deck approach for the opener of this four-game series. Cleveland gave reliever Mike Clevinger the start; he was one of eight Indians pitchers to appear in the loss, which shaved the Tribe's division lead over Detroit to 4 1/2 games.
Houston remains two games back of the AL's second Wild Card spot.
"It's a big win for us to come into this place and beat a first-place team, so regardless of how they lined their pitching up, you've got to win as many games as you can," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "That was the lovable September marathon that we all enjoy. Better to be on the winning side than the losing side, but that one seemed like it was never going to end."
Bregman's two-run blast in the third, combined with an RBI double from Jose Altuve in the first and a three-run outburst in the seventh, helped back an effective outing by Houston right-hander Mike Fiers. Fiers went five innings, in which he allowed two runs on seven hits. Jose Ramirez contributed an RBI single in the third and Mike Napoli belted his 30th home run of the season in the fifth.
The Indians have not determined who will start when the fifth spot in the rotation comes around again. With expanded rosters, another bullpen day has not been ruled out.
"I'm not sure what we are going to do," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's not like it's during the middle of the year, where you are putting your bullpen in jeopardy. I'll want to talk to the guys and see what we think is best for us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bregman's tear continues: The rookie third baseman, who clobbered his seventh homer of the season in the third off reliever Jeff Manship following a walk to George Springer, is slowly getting his numbers up after a 2-for-38 start to his career. He's now hit safely in 25 of his last 28 games, batting .333 in that stretch. He has seven homers and 22 RBIs in his last 19 games.
"We had a couple of opportunities early that we didn't capitalize on, so I think any time you can get on the board quickly, that was big -- the walk from George and the home run from Bregman," Hinch said. "We've got a very potent top half of the order when those guys are swinging the bat well. Bregman continues to come up big with some hard hits." More >
Just keep swimming: Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor led off the third with a line drive to the wall in right-center. He slid into second base as the relay from right fielder Teoscar Hernandez came in, and was ruled out on the tag by Altuve. On the play, though, Lindor pulled off an acrobatic "swim" slide (a technique he has used before) to roll away from the tag. Cleveland challenged the out call, which was overturned after a replay review, giving Lindor a double. Two batters later, Lindor scored on a single by Ramirez. More >
"He's a pretty athletic kid to be able to do that," Francona said. "He knew [he was safe] right away."
Slick Correa: Astros shortstop Carlos Correa made a pair of nice plays to end the fourth inning, including a spectacular diving stop in the hole to rob Roberto Perez of a hit. Carlos Santana then hit a bullet up the middle that Correa snagged on a bounce and threw to first for the final out of the inning. But Correa's all-out dive into the hole and one-hop throw to get Perez was as good as it gets.
"I want to make those plays 10 times out of 10," Correa said. " feel like I've got to give my best out there for my pitchers and I've got to back them up. I feel like I've got to make those plays." More >
Party at Napoli's: Napoli had gone without a homer for 89 plate appearances before ending his power outage in the fifth inning. His shot to left rocketed out at 109 mph and traveled an estimated 408 feet, per Statcast™. With the blast, his 30th, Napoli matched his career high (2011) and became the first Indians hitter to have at least 30 in a season since 2008 (Grady Sizemore, 33). He is also the first right-handed batter to have 30-plus in a year for Cleveland since '02 (Ellis Burks, 32).
"I thought it was a good swing," Francona said. "And we have seen he can hit them in bunches, so that's the way it usually goes."
"A lot of [teams'] fifth starter probably doesn't do as good as we did tonight, going into the seventh. ... We've got the bullpen arms to do it, if we want to do it. It's nice to have a ... lead, now that we're trying to figure out what our fifth starter is going to look like. The good part is, if we do make it [to the playoffs], you don't need a fifth starter. So there's not as much panic as I think there would be if it were April, because you can't do this for a whole season." -- Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, on having a bullpen game in a pennant race
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Altuve is the fastest Astros player to reach 200 career doubles, surpassing Lance Berkman, who hit his 200th in his 811th career game. Monday was Altuve's 804th game.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Brad Peacock will make his first start of the season in Tuesday's 6:10 p.m. CT game against the Indians. He is starting in place of Dallas Keuchel, who was scratched with inflammation in his shoulder. Peacock went 5-6 with a 4.23 ERA in 22 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Fresno this year and appeared in five games in August in relief for the Astros.
Indians: Ace Corey Kluber is scheduled to take the mound in Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. ET clash with Houston. Kluber went 5-0 in August and was named the American League's Pitcher of the Month. Over his past 10 turns for the Tribe, the righty has gone 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA, putting him in the thick of the Cy Young discussion.