HOUSTON -- For all his recent struggles at the plate, Detroit catcher Alex Avila picked the perfect time to come up with a big hit.
With his team trailing in the ninth inning, Avila hit a two-run home run to lift the Tigers to a 4-3 win over the Astros on Friday night."I felt great," Avila said of the game-winning blast to deep center field. "Timing is everything with those, right?"Indeed.Avila took a 3-1 fastball by Houston closer Jose Veras to deep center field. Veras had walked Don Kelly to start the inning."Hopefully that will get him going, get some confidence going," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Avila. "That was a big one."Especially after Jose Altuve's clutch RBI single in the seventh inning gave the Astros a 3-2 lead to cap a three-run rally. With the homer, Avila snapped an 0-for-8 streak at the plate."I was swinging the bat pretty good and then I had a bad week," Avila said. "Things can change pretty quickly."Houston (8-22), which has the worst record in the American League, lost its fourth in a row and for the eighth time in its past nine games.Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, and Jose Valverde finished the ninth against his former team for his third save in as many chances."You've got to keep it close," Smyly said. "They had a chance to break it open right there, but we made some plays, made some pitches and kept it close. A one-run game in the ninth, anything can happen."For Veras (0-2), it was his second blown save in four opportunities.The Tigers, who claimed the series opener Thursday with a 7-3 victory in 14 innings, have won seven of their last eight games.Astros right-hander Bud Norris struck out a season-high seven over as many innings, long enough for Houston hitters to figure out Detroit right-hander Doug Fister and make things interesting."I was very impressed with (Norris)," Leyland said. "That wasn't easy for us tonight. He pitched very, very well."Norris allowed two runs on five hits. He walked three, but was otherwise effective in keeping the Astros within striking distance."We came out with the short end of the stick, but these guys fought hard for nine innings, and that's what we expect out of ourselves," Norris said. "It's a tough one to lose, but we played hard, and that's a positive for us."Fister, who had won all four of his previous decisions, pitched six innings of shutout ball, but things unraveled for the Tigers right-hander in the seventh.Matt Dominguez doubled on a line drive to left to lead off the bottom of the inning, and Rick Ankiel followed with a single to center that had Fister ducking and deflecting the ball with his glove.Marvin Gonzalez reached on an error by second baseman Omar Infante, allowing Dominguez to score, and Ankiel scored the tying run on Robbie Grossman's RBI single to left.That set the stage for Altuve, whose third hit of the night gave the Astros their short-lived lead.For Astros manager Bo Porter, the rally was an encouraging sign."It was impressive because it wasn't the home run," Porter said. "It was quality at-bats."Leyland was pleased with Fister's outing."He was good. Maybe not quite as sharp as he's been, but still good," Leyland said. "He kept us in the game and saved our bullpen."Fister (4-0) was tagged for three runs, including two earned, on nine hits over six-plus innings. He struck out four while walking one. He was replaced by Smyly."That was a godsend that he gave us that many innings tonight," Leyland said.Jhonny Peralta gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with an RBI single to left in the second inning.Victor Martinez made it 2-0 Tigers with an RBI single to the right-field wall in the fourth.Martinez thought he had a home run, but the play was reviewed by the umpiring crew, who upheld with the initial call."It hit the yellow pad," Leyland said when asked for the crew's explanation. "The umpires did everything that they are supposed to do."As it turned out, so did Avila."When you are struggling and you do something to contribute, you feel pretty good," Avila said.
C Jason Castro was Houston's designated hitter, a night after catching 14 innings in a 7-3 loss to the Tigers. Castro entered the game on a nine-game hitting streak, batting .389 with six doubles in the process. He went 0-for-5. . Houston relievers Dallas Keuchel and Wesley Wright were unavailable after pitching the night before. . CF Austin Jackson could have played, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave him the day off to rest his sore hamstrings. . Leyland said RHP Octavio Dotel, on the 5-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, is making progress and could go on a rehab stint soon.