By Christian Boutwell and Richard Dean
HOUSTON -- It didn't much matter that the top seven batters in the Astros' order produced no RBIs and Carlos Correa was absent, given a day of rest. Houston had Norichika Aoki and Jake Marisnick backing up a superb seven innings from starter Mike Fiers in Sunday's series-clinching 5-3 win over the Twins.
The Astros' 8-9 hitters, Aoki and Marisnick, provided the offense the team needed for its 62nd win, combining for three RBIs, pacing Houston to its 21st series win and second series win against Minnesota in 2017.
Houston plated its final two runs in the seventh without benefit of an RBI, as Marisnick scored on an error, and Jose Altuve crossed the plate on a strikeout/fielder's choice in a heady dash to the plate. According to Statcast™, Altuve's Sprint Speed -- which equates to the distance he traveled in his fastest one-second window -- was 30.2 feet per second on the play. That's significantly faster than his average of 28.0 feet/second on what we call "max effort" plays. For context, anything above 30 feet/sec is considered elite, and Byron Buxton leads MLB with an average "max effort" Sprint Speed of 30.1 feet/second.
"We're really athletic," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "I think everybody immediately looks at our offense -- at the hitting, at the power or the lack of strikeouts -- but we can create runs for ourselves."
Sunday's meeting was the last during the regular season between the Astros and Twins (46-45). Houston took the season series, 5-1.
From the ninth spot in Houston's order, Marisnick followed consecutive singles by Alex Bregman and Aoki with an RBI single in the second inning. Aoki would later slap a two-run double to center.
"It's good for us to put together good at-bats down there, and kind of flip the lineup over for some of these guys that are having the season that they're having," Marisnick said. "The better at-bats we put together down there, the more success we're going to have at the top and throughout the whole lineup."
While allowing solo homers to Kennys Vargas and Ehire Adrianza, Fiers struck out a season-high 11 -- largely with pinpoint control via his curveball -- which are the most he's accumulated since fanning 10 in his no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 21, 2015. Fiers is the first Houston starter to last at least seven innings since June 16.
"I thought he was really good," Hinch said. "That was probably the best breaking ball he's had, and that's saying a lot, because he's had a really good breaking ball since this stretch started when he's been really, really effective. He was a strike machine with it. He could throw it to any hitter in any count. Really did a good job. Seven strong, strong innings."
Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson wasn't too shabby, either. Gibson went six-plus innings, allowing six hits and four earned runs. He also walked four and struck out six, both tying his season highs.
"This is a team we know we can play with when we're playing well," Gibson said. "They took advantage of us a little late and had some good baserunning to score a couple extra runs. We lost two of three, but we lost on the road to a really good team."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Norichika's go-ahead knock: Following Yuli Gurriel's leadoff double in the fourth inning -- which gave the Astros their 49th straight game with a double -- Marwin Gonzalez walked. Two at-bats later, from the eighth spot in the order, Aoki shot a two-run double into center, scoring Gurriel and Gonzalez and giving the Astros a 3-2 lead.
Giles slams the door: Astros closer Ken Giles allowed a single to Twins second baseman Brian Dozier before walking Robbie Grossman, putting two on base for Minnesota's All-Star slugger, Miguel Sano, but Sano grounded out to short for the first out of the inning. Max Kepler would next chip a sacrifice fly to left field, recording the second out but scoring one and shrinking the Astros lead to two runs. Giles then got Vargas, who blasted a 452-foot homer in the second inning, to ground out to first base to end the ballgame.
"We didn't muster a lot of offense, but we still gave ourselves a chance at the end," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "But we couldn't get a big hit during the ninth to keep the rally going."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros have won 18 of their last 26 games. They've scored 191 runs in that stretch, averaging 7.35 runs per game.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: The Twins return to Target Field to open a three-game series on Monday against the Yankees. Left-hander Adalberto Mejia will be making his first career appearance against New York. First pitch is at 8:10 p.m. CT.
Astros: Houston continues its six-game homestand with a three-game series against Seattle beginning Monday at 8:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will oppose left-hander Ariel Miranda. McCullers is 2-0 vs. the Mariners this season, and 5-2 in his career against them.