Astros' third baseman adds walk-off HR to stellar stretch
By Jordan Ray
HOUSTON -- Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena has been earning high praise from his teammates and manager this homestand, and on Friday night, he delivered in a big way: He launched a walk-off three-run homer to snatch a 10-9 victory from the A's and send Minute Maid Park into a frenzy.
It was a moment nobody could have predicted in the top of the ninth, when All-Star closer Will Harris took the mound with a three-run lead, but it was a moment the Astros needed when they found themselves down 9-7.
It was also a moment that really shouldn't come as a surprise. Valbuena certainly isn't the biggest name on the team, but his play, especially on the offensive end, has been impressive for a while now.
"This isn't a good homestand or a good stretch," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "This is a good player who's found a comfort zone to where he feels good at the plate."
Two nights earlier, Valbuena blasted an eighth-inning, go-ahead home run into the second deck of Minute Maid Park, helping the Astros beat the Mariners, 9-8, and prompting some raves from the guy in the locker next to him.
"Look at him," center fielder Carlos Gomez said after Wednesday's win. "He's the [expletive] guy."
Valbuena was the guy again Friday. The walk-off shot was his third home run through eight games of the Astros' 10-game homestand, in which he's batted .333 (8-for-24) with nine RBIs. Since May 7, Valbuena is batting .302, notching all 12 of his home runs this season along with 37 RBIs and 12 doubles during that length of time.
"[I'm] looking for good [pitches]," Valbuena said. "That's what I try to do. Not trying to do too much at home plate. Looking for the [pitches] I want, and I hit them."
Valbuena entered Friday leading the Astros in OPS since May 7 with a .941 mark, which trailed only Josh Donaldson (1.031) and Kyle Seager (.957) among American League third basemen.
Hinch wasn't expecting a home run when Valbuena took the plate with one out and runners on the corners, but he did expect Valbuena to put together a solid at-bat.
"I expected good contact because of the way Luis has been swinging the bat," Hinch said.
Valbuena, often soft-spoken in the clubhouse, said he knew the ball was gone as soon as it left his bat. He was promptly drenched in Powerade as he crossed home plate.
"It's so fun," Valbuena said. "Everybody goes to the field to enjoy the big win."
Jordan Ray is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.