Astros clobber Twins, grow lead in AL West

Astros clobber Twins, grow lead in AL West

HOUSTON -- George Springer's return to the lineup took a back seat to the bat of Hank Conger.

Conger belted a fourth-inning grand slam, and Colby Rasmus had a two-run blast to back 7 2/3 scoreless innings from starting pitcher Collin McHugh and lead the Astros to an 8-0 win over the Twins in the series opener Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

"It felt great," Conger said. "Especially, [Twins starter Mike Pelfrey] got those first two guys out with the bases loaded so trying to get a momentum shift. He has a good two-seamer, so for me I was trying to look out over the plate and do some damage."

The first-place Astros gained a game atop the American League West over the Rangers (three games back) after Texas lost to the Angels (4 1/2 back). That result in Anaheim also kept the Twins 1 1/2 games behind the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Conger, batting left-handed against Pelfrey (6-9), sent a 2-0 pitch to left field and into the Crawford Boxes to give Houston a 7-0 lead and later added an RBI single to tie a career high with five RBIs. McHugh (15-7) held the Twins to seven hits and one walk and struck out six.

McHugh's scoreless outing

"McHugh was good," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "A lot of poise. We didn't touch his curveball all night. He had good command of his cutter. It was just kind of bleak overall."

Springer went 1-for-4 in his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list for a fractured right wrist, jump-starting the offense with a leadoff single and a run in the bottom of the first inning. More >

Springer's single in return

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hammerin' Hank: Conger, who has taken over as the starting catcher while Jason Castro is on the disabled list recovering from a right quad strain, became the 10th Astros player to reach double-digit home runs with the grand slam, setting a franchise record. The Major League record is 11 players with double-digit home runs (2004 Tigers). Backup infielder Marwin Gonzalez is the next closest Astro to the 10-homer mark, with nine on the season for Houston. More >

"When you got guys down in the order hitting double-digit home runs that are part-time players, that's a pretty unique roster to have," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "You know clearly we've got power throughout and we've had guys come up through the Minor Leagues and hit for power, and it's a good achievement."

Hinch on Astros' 8-0 win

Pelfrey can't go deep: Pelfrey has had trouble recently pitching deep into games, and it was again the case, as he lasted only four innings. The right-hander has been unable to reach the six-inning mark in five of his last six starts, and has a 6.35 ERA over that stretch. More >

"It's very frustrating," said Pelfrey, who threw 70 pitches, 42 for strikes. "I feel bad for the bullpen. They've had to pick me up for a month or however long it's been. It seems like forever. Obviously, the pitch count wasn't crazy high tonight, but I couldn't get anybody out. So it's just frustrating. I need to go deeper and be better and I haven't done that."

Pelfrey rings up Springer

Gomez throws out Mauer: Astros center fielder Carlos Gomez came up with a huge play in the top of the first inning, when he threw out Joe Mauer at home plate for the final out. Mauer was trying to score from second base on a single by Miguel Sano.

"It's huge," Conger said. "Gomey made a great play, and obviously that carries on, of course Springer gets the hit and then it starts some stuff going right there. For some reason it just seems like plays at home plate always seem like a momentum-shifter."

Gomez nabs Mauer after review

Escobar's streak snapped: Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar saw his streak of scoring in 12 straight games come to an end. It tied Colorado's Nolan Arenado for the longest such streak this year and was two games behind Kirby Puckett's franchise record of 14 straight. But Escobar did extend his hit streak to five games and has also reached safely via a hit or walk in 10 consecutive games.

QUOTABLE
"Usually, I do a better job of keeping the ball in the park. The one to Rasmus was belt-high and he turned on it. The one to Conger was up but he was able to get it out, too. I put our team in a pretty big hole." -- Pelfrey, who entered having allowed seven homers all year

Rasmus' two-run homer

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
In Dallas Keuchel (16-6) and McHugh, the Astros have two 15-game winners for the first time since 2005: Roy Oswalt (20-12) and Andy Pettitte (17-9).

McHugh, Conger on Astros' win

WHAT'S NEXT
Twins: Right-hander Ervin Santana starts the second game of the series on Saturday (6:10 p.m. CT). Santana is coming off his best start of the year, as he tossed seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts against the Astros on Sunday.

Astros: Rookie-right-hander Lance McCullers (5-5, 3.21 ERA) starts against the Twins for the second time in a row on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. He held the Twins to three runs and four hits in six innings in a 7-5 loss Sunday.

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

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.