MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Astros show resiliency, battle back from tough start

Houston beginning to live up to hype bestowed on it before season

Astros show resiliency, battle back from tough start

HOUSTON -- This one was not easy. In that way, it represented everything this crazy season has thrown at the Houston Astros.

"We're a resilient group," manager A.J. Hinch would say later.

They are that and possibly more.

First things first. For the first time in 76 days, they are not a losing team. That's what a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Angels Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park delivered.

As milestones go, it's not earth shaking.

"If you had told me we'd be .500 on this date, I would have said we should be better," Hinch said. "I want to keep it in proper perspective."

The Astros are 36-36, which won't blow you away when you consider they were a consensus pick to win the American League West.

And then the wheels came off. Tuesday night was the first time they'd been .500 since they were 1-1 on April 6. They were 7-17 in April and 17-28 on May 22. At times, it looked like the hole might get so deep they could never climb out.

But they kept chopping wood.

"We believe in ourselves and who we are as a team," right fielder George Springer said. "Our staff stayed positive. We knew that wasn't going to last. There's a long road to travel."

They had some team meetings, including some harsh ones.

"I wasn't encouraging a couple of times," Hinch said.

Funny thing is, last season included some of the same adversity. Only it came in the second half of the season. They opened up a seven-game lead in the AL West before the All-Star break. And then as the Rangers got hotter and hotter, the lead vaporized.

When the Astros opened September by losing 12 of 16, it looked like they might let their first playoff appearance in 10 years slip away.

They went 9-5 after that and clinched a Wild Card berth on the final day of the regular season. They defeated the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, then were eliminated by the Royals in Game 5 of the AL Division Series.

All of that seemed to be a preview of 2016. They were young and talented and confident. They didn't shy away from the expectations. They still don't.

Here's the impressive part. Even when the standings looked terrible, they never stopped believing things would turn around.

"I've maintained that I like our group," Hinch said. "I've always loved our team. Those guys battle and they compete. They prepare. We're not perfect. But we will compete. I can guarantee that."

Nothing clicked overnight. They still have some warts. But they're 29-19 since May 1 and 19-8 since May 23.

While they're 10 games behind the first-place Rangers in the AL West, they're just a half game behind the second-place Mariners.

And they're just three games out in the race for the second AL Wild Card berth.

Their bullpen has been the best in baseball since May 1 (2.50 ERA). Their rotation has gotten steadily better.

Jose Altuve is hitting .365 during the 19-8 stretch. Evan Gattis has seven home runs. Springer and Luis Valbuena have six apiece.

They trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday when Springer drew a leadoff walk and stole second. Marwin Gonzalez also walked.

Then the Astros caught a break, which may be an omen of what's ahead. Altuve's grounder hit the third-base bag and rolled into foul territory for a single.

That's when shortstop Carlos Correa stepped up and lined a ball in the gap to score the tying and winning runs.

Lost in the celebration was that Collin McHugh was excellent, allowing two runs in seven innings and twice stranding runners on third.

Three relievers put together two shutout innings, which set up Correa's third walk-off hit of the season.

"I think all of us are excited," McHugh said. "We have expectations of ourselves. It's plain and simple. We're starting to finally put complete games together and maybe live up to those expectations a little bit."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.