McCullers honors Jose, leads Astros to sweep

McCullers honors Jose, leads Astros to sweep

MIAMI -- On the mound where his close friend, Jose Fernandez, was so dominant, Lance McCullers Jr. was in total control on Wednesday afternoon at Marlins Park. The 23-year-old right-hander didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, and backed by Jose Altuve's two triples and two doubles, the Astros defeated the Marlins, 3-0, completing a three-game sweep.

"There was emotion for me pregame," McCullers said. "I know he's here in spirit, and he would want me to go out there and just pitch my game, and in that way kind of celebrate him.

"I was kind of nervous for today's start. I knew the sixth was my last inning, so I looked up and saw my family, and that was pretty emotional for me. But I had to go about my business, and I had to pitch well for the guys."

McCullers' strong start

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Altuve achieved a rarity, becoming the first player since 2005 to have two doubles and two triples in the same game. And the Astros capped a seven-game road trip with six wins, scoring 46 runs in New York vs. the Yankees and in Miami. The Marlins, meanwhile, went just 1-8 on their homestand.

"It doesn't surprise me that Altuve did it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's not shy of hits."

Altuve's four-hit game

A Tampa native who grew up facing Fernandez, McCullers held the Marlins without a hit until J.T. Riddle led off the fifth inning with a single to left, beating the shift. The right-hander paid tribute to Fernandez by wearing customized, colorful "JDF16" on his shoes. And he's been wearing an orange glove, the same design that Fernandez used.

"I'm just trying to battle," Riddle said of his hit. "I got two strikes there. I knew he was big about his breaking ball. My first at-bat, I hadn't seen one. He was throwing me changeups. I was just trying to battle there, 3-2. Put something in play."

Fernandez, who died in a boating accident last September, dominated at Marlins Park, going 29-2 with a 1.49 ERA. McCullers was quite at home in his first ever start in Miami. In six innings, McCullers allowed three hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He has not given up a run (which was unearned) in 17 innings over three starts.

Altuve had an RBI double off Jose Urena in the first inning. In the sixth inning, George Springer had a two-run single.

Springer's two-run single

Urena remains a bright spot during a rough stretch for Miami, giving up three runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings. But the Marlins have dropped 13 of 16 in May.

"I think I've described the state of things the last few days," Miami manager Don Mattingly said. "Today's game didn't go the way we wanted it. Jose pitched good. We could have helped him more. We didn't do enough offensively to win the game."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Casual flip, big flub: Give the Astros extra outs, and they'll make you pay. They did so in the sixth inning, when Miami second baseman Dee Gordon made a casual flip to second base on what should have been an inning-ending grounder off the bat of McCullers. Gordon could have gone to first for the easy out, but from a crouched position, he attempted a long flip to Riddle at second, who couldn't come up with the ball. The error prolonged the inning, loading the bases, and Springer slapped a two-run single to right, putting the Astros up by three and ending Urena's day.

McCullers Jr. reaches on error

"I just made a dumb play," Gordon said. "I didn't make the right play. It's my fault, and we lost the game."

On Springer's hit, first baseman Justin Bour made a diving attempt and nearly came up with the ball.

"I almost felt like he dove over the top of that," Mattingly said. "I couldn't tell, I haven't looked at it [on replay]. It gets through, if we get the out there, we're still at 1-0, and nobody is talking about the [error]."

Simmering Jam? No problem: For five innings, it was pretty much smooth sailing for McCullers, who allowed one hit. He did have the bases full in the first inning, but he escaped without any damage, retiring Derek Dietrich on a grounder to second. But in the sixth inning, after Houston went up by three, Bour singled with one out, and Giancarlo Stanton's liner to right was lost in the lights by Springer. The double put runners on second and third with one out. McCullers calmly worked out of it, striking out Dietrich on three pitches, putting him away with a knuckle-curve, before A.J. Ellis grounded to second.

McCullers escapes an early jam

"I know it meant a lot for him to pitch on this mound," Hinch said. "So it was nice for him to be near his best and use his pitches and be effective. He just did a lot right and he did it with a lot of emotion today. It meant a lot to him."

McCullers Jr. on Fernandez

QUOTABLE
"We just have to go out to L.A. and Oakland and continue to play hard, play for each other and see what happens. We can't get down on ourselves. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We've got a good team, have got to pull together and just play it out." -- Gordon, on the Marlins' upcoming road trip against the Dodgers and A's

WHAT'S NEXT
Astros: After a scheduled day off, the Astros open up an important three-game series on Friday with Cleveland at Minute Maid Park. Right-hander Charlie Morton gets the nod for Houston in the 7:10 p.m. CT start.

Marlins: After wrapping up a nine-game homestand, the Marlins travel to Dodger Stadium for the first of four games with Los Angeles on Thursday at 10:10 p.m. ET. Edinson Volquez seeks his first win since signing with the Marlins. Hyun-Jin Ryu starts things off for the Dodgers.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com based in Miami who covered the Astros on Wednesday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.