By Brian McTaggart and Gregor Chisholm
HOUSTON -- Josh Donaldson crushed a pair of home runs, including back-to-back shots with Jose Bautista in the sixth inning, to send the Blue Jays to a 3-1 win over the struggling Astros at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night.
Donaldson's leadoff homer in the fourth and the consecutive blasts in the sixth were the only offensive damage against Astros starter Collin McHugh (7-8), who struck out 10 batters in six innings. Each of Toronto's last 12 homers has been a solo shot, and all six runs they've scored against the Astros this series have come via the long ball.
"That's big," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team had lost eight consecutive games at Minute Maid Park prior to winning the last two. "We've had a lot of trouble down here, but we're a better team this year than we've been in the past, too."
Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada (7-4) tossed seven innings, allowing one run and four hits while striking out seven without any walks. He retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced before back-to-back doubles by Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve in the sixth cut Toronto's lead to 3-1.
"We've had a hard time with some close games lately, and certainly we know [homers are] part of this offense with Toronto," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We haven't been able to find a way to win a couple of these close games, get a big hit or get our offense out of the cooler a little bit. Credit to their pitching. Estrada's been doing this to the whole league."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Oppo tacos: Donaldson's first home run of the night came in the top of the fourth inning, when he hit a solo shot to right field. According to Statcast™, the ball was projected to travel 377 feet and left his bat at 101 mph. In the sixth, Donaldson was back at it again, with yet another solo shot to left. It was the ninth multihomer game of Donaldson's career and his third of the season. He is now batting .367 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 26 career games at Minute Maid Park.
"It was a pitchers' duel, and luckily, we pulled off a couple of homers to get a little cushion there," Estrada said. "Any home run that's hit is always huge, especially when it's a pitching duel like it was today. I'm thankful for them, and the offense did really well today, and obviously the defense played a [great] game."
Astros in search of offense: Once again, the Astros struggled on the offensive end for much of the night, and it cost them, as it has during most of their slump. After Wednesday's loss, in which the Astros only put together one run on six hits, Houston has scored six runs in its last 51 innings. The bottom five of the order, who are batting a combined .190, went 1-for-18 on Wednesday night.
"This is a dry spell for us," Hinch said. "We've been through this before. We've seen this happen and we've come out of it pretty explosively in the past, and I think we'll do it again. Right now you've got some guys grinding mentally and physically, and they're trying to do too much and ultimately not finding the results." More >
Bautista bomb: One night after collecting career home run No. 300, Bautista went deep again to left field. It was his third home run since returning from the disabled list on July 25, and projected to travel 423 feet by Statcast™. Donaldson immediately followed with a solo shot to left for the Blue Jays' sixth back-to-back homers this season.
Big chance missed: The Astros' best chance to get a rally going came in the eighth, when Jake Marisnick doubled and George Springer reached first on a fielder's choice with no outs. Gonzalez pushed them into scoring position with a sac bunt before reliever Joe Biagini retired the Astros' top two RBI threats -- Altuve flied out to right on the first pitch, and Carlos Correa struck out looking on a close pitch.
"Sometimes you get a hit," Altuve said. "Sometimes not."
"Time is helping it heal. That's basically what's been going on, and obviously all the work I've been doing with the trainers and stuff. They've been helping me out big time, and it's getting there. It's close. This is the best I've felt in a while, and you can tell by the velo. It was up a little bit, back to normal, I guess. I didn't really see any 84-, 85-mph four-seam fastballs. That's a plus, and I just have to keep working on it and make it feel 100 percent again." -- Estrada, who spent time on the DL in July because of soreness in his lower back
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Toronto leads the Majors in multihomer games this season, with 44.
Estrada has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 12 starts, the second-longest streak in the Majors behind Kyle Hendricks (13) and Rich Hill (13).
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
At 29 years and 308 days, reliever James Hoyt became the second-oldest Astros pitcher to make his big league debut when he threw a scoreless seventh. Don Bradley was 29 years and 357 days old when he debuted on Sept. 25, 1964.
"Good first outing for Hoyt and a nice reward on a career that's been built on grinding through everything from independent ball to nearly stopping play for a couple of years," Hinch said. "He's dominated and hasn't gotten the opportunity. I'm proud to call him a big leaguer."
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Left-hander J.A. Happ will take the mound against one of his former teams when the Blue Jays close out their four-game series against the Astros on Thursday night at 8:10 ET at Minute Maid Park. Happ was recently named a runner-up in voting for the Blue Jays' player of the month for July after going 4-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five starts.
Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers gets the start in the series finale against the Jays at 7:10 p.m. CT on Thursday at Minute Maid Park. He's 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last two starts.