CLEVELAND -- On the strength of a four-run fifth inning and a solid showing by Carlos Carrasco, the Indians denied the Astros, 6-5, on Wednesday night at Progressive Field for win No. 80, extending their lead over the second-place Tigers in the American League Central to 5 1/2 games a few hours after Detroit lost to the White Sox.
"Sometimes winning's hard," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't mean you can't do it, but sometimes it's hard. Tonight was one of those nights. But we go home with a win. And we have a quick turnaround, but that was a good win for us."
Carrasco worked around some early trouble, logging 7 1/3 innings of four-run ball. The right-hander was charged with three runs over the third and fourth innings, when he dealt with some insect issues on the mound. Immediately after a bug appeared to fly in his eye in the fourth, Carrasco surrendered a leadoff single to Yulieski Gurriel and a first-pitch, two-run homer to Colby Rasmus. Carrasco settled in, however, striking out five batters and walking one en route to his 11th win of the season.
"They were everywhere out there," Francona said of the bugs. "In the dugout, it's hard to sense it, but when you get out on the field, man, they're everywhere. Other than that one that went in his eye, it didn't seem like it got in the way too much, but they were all over the place."
Houston righty Doug Fister was slapped with the loss after being chased in the fifth inning. Fister allowed six runs on nine hits across 4 1/3 innings, walking three batters and whiffing two as the Astros saw their three-game winning streak come to an end. With the loss, Houston remained two games behind Baltimore for the second AL Wild Card spot.
Tribe slugger Mike Napoli belted his 31st homer in the fifth inning, and Gurriel delivered a two-run drive, his first Major League homer, off standout reliever Andrew Miller in the eighth to make it a one-run game.
"They put a lot of at-bats together," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We're in the middle part of the game, and we've got three or four guys who aren't going to pitch tonight, so we needed some guys to get some outs. Their guys executed a little better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Party at Napoli's: Napoli reclaimed the lead for the Tribe with a two-run homer to left-center, his career-high 31st of the season. According to Statcast™, the ball traveled a projected 427 feet from the plate with an exit velocity of 109 mph. Napoli has 12 home runs with an exit velocity of at least 108 mph. The rest of the team has six such homers.
"It's a new career high, so, yeah, it's special," Napoli said. "I'm glad it came in a win. We still have a lot of meaningful baseball left, which will be fun down the stretch. It's going to be a fun time."
False starts: The Astros' starters continue to have trouble pitching deep into games. Fister's outing marked the seventh game in a row in which an Astros starter was unable to complete at least six innings, though the club has won four of those games. Fister has only one quality start in his last six outings and is 2-4 with a 7.12 ERA during that span.
"It's pretty frustrating," Fister said. "But I've still got a handful of starts left. I've got to turn things around." More >
Chess match: The Indians made a strategic move in the bottom of the fifth to break the game open. After Houston called on lefty Kevin Chapman to relieve Fister, Cleveland elected to use Brandon Guyer as a pinch-hitter. Guyer delivered with a two-run double to left-center, capping a four-run outburst. Entering Wednesday, Guyer had hit .320 against left-handers this season.
"If you do it in July, when you have a three- or four-man bench," Francona said, "it's hard to do that. But now you can. But the guy has to be ready to hit, and he's always ready. He took a good swing."
Yuli-ke that? Gurriel, who made his Major League debut on Aug. 21, turned on a 2-2 slider from Miller and sent it towering over the left-field wall to plate Evan Gattis, who had doubled. The home run came in Gurriel's 44th career at-bat, and it raised his batting average to .318.
"He's a good hitter, and he found the barrel to the pull side against a really good pitcher," Hinch said. "That was good to see. He got us back in the game. The game was never out of reach, and it was nice to scratch and claw and make it interesting. This team has no quit in it." More >
"We're focused on going out and trying to win baseball games on a daily basis. If we can gain ground, great. As long as we continue to win, we're in a spot where we control our own destiny. If we win, you can't catch us, if we keep winning." -- Closer Cody Allen, on the Tribe's AL Central lead
"I remember them from everywhere. When you've got skin like mine, it doesn't matter what city you're in." -- Francona, on the bugs
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor notched his MLB-high 23rd three-hit game of the season. That is the most three-hit outings by an Indians batter since 1936, when Earl Averill had 29 and Hal Trosky had 24.
CARRASCO SWARMED BY BUGS
Fighting bugs in the fourth, Carrasco missed low and away to Gurriel to begin the frame and immediately motioned for help from the dugout to get a bug out of his eye. It was hardly the first time insects have descended on Progressive Field. Most famously, former Yankees hurler Joba Chamberlain was bothered by bugs in Game 2 of the 2007 AL Division Series.
"That was weird," Carrasco said. "I throw the curveball right there and threw it maybe 20 feet away or something like that. ... It doesn't feel good, but I just have to come back and make my pitches. I [gave up] a ground-ball base hit. And the first pitch, [Rasmus] homered. It was a bit inside."
"I remember seeing it in the playoff game, Joba throwing," Napoli said. "He had 10,000 of them on his neck. I know it could be worse. That was just part of [the game]. We both had to deal with it."
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander David Paulino will make his Major League debut when the gets the ball in Thursday's 11:10 a.m. CT series finale. Paulino went a combined 5-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) in the Minors this year, striking out 106 in 90 innings.
Indians: Right-hander Trevor Bauer (10-6, 3.70 ERA) is slated to start the finale for the Tribe. Bauer notched his fourth consecutive quality start in his last outing. Facing Miami in that game, he allowed three runs on four hits across 8 1/3 frames to earn the win. Bauer is 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA in four career starts against the Astros.