Astros Win Opener as Collin McHugh Shrugs Off Rain and Royals


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Houston’s Jake Marisnick scoring past Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez on a second-inning single by Jose Altuve, who had three hits.

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Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Collin McHugh used to be a Met. Remember?

His brief tenure may be forgettable because he never won a game in a Mets uniform, going 0-5 with an 8.26 E.R.A. over parts of the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

McHugh was still winless in eight decisions as a major leaguer when the Houston Astros claimed him in December 2013 off waivers from Colorado, six months after the Mets had shipped him to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr.

With the Astros, McHugh blossomed into an effective starter, winning 11 and 19 games in his first two seasons. On Thursday night, he added his first postseason victory.

Undeterred by a 49-minute rain delay between the second and third innings, McHugh permitted two runs — both on Kendrys Morales homers — in six innings, lifting Houston to a 5-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals, the defending American League champions, in Game 1 of their division series. Game 2 will be Friday afternoon, with another Met-turned-Astro, Scott Kazmir, facing Johnny Cueto.

“He showed a lot of guts and a lot of preparation and a lot of professionalism to be able to keep his mind right in that delay,” Houston manager A. J. Hinch said of McHugh, adding that he never seriously considered taking him out. McHugh struck out just one hitter but also walked only one.

“That wasn’t even his best tonight, and he got through a pretty good lineup,” Hinch said. “He didn’t have as many strikeouts as he normally has, but he gutted it out with some really good breaking balls and some really good cut fastballs. Even the first homer he gave up to Morales was a really good cutter, up and in.”

Twenty-nine years after Mike Scott, another Mets castoff who landed in Houston, dominated his former team twice in a memorable National League Championship Series, McHugh has developed into a surprisingly big winner. Dallas Keuchel may be Houston’s ace and Cy Young Award candidate, but McHugh, an 18th-round draft pick by the Mets in 2008, has settled in as a strong No. 2 starter.

What did the Astros see that the Mets and the Rockies did not? Houston claimed McHugh because its analytics department had determined that the spin rate on his curveball was exceptional.

“When they brought me over, they didn’t really talk to me about that,” McHugh said during Wednesday’s workout. “They said that they had been trying to sign me for a couple of years.”

He added: “More than anything, they just said: ‘We like what you have; we like your stuff; we like your makeup. Go out there and pitch. Go out there and prove us right,’ more or less. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”

Kansas City mustered little against McHugh besides the Morales homers, getting only two other hits, both singles. But Royals manager Ned Yost said, “It’s not a death sentence to lose Game 1.”

The Astros, coming off a win over the Yankees in Tuesday’s A.L. wild-card game, jumped on the hard-throwing Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura, scoring two runs in the first inning and one in the second while a drizzle grew into full-out rain. Soon after Morales hit his first homer, cutting the lead to 3-1, the umpires called for the tarp.

When the delay exceeded Kansas City’s 45-minute limit for young pitchers, Yost told the 24-year-old Ventura that he was done and brought in the veteran Chris Young. Ventura, who threw only two innings, is in line to start a potential Game 4 on Monday in Houston, Yost said.

McHugh said he never sat down during the delay. “I got in the clubhouse, and I think I was making people nervous by pacing around the whole time,” he said. “I threw some heat on my arm and pretty much just paced and made sure I didn’t let myself get tight.”

When play resumed, the 6-foot-10, soft-tossing Young baffled the Astros with his assortment of pitches, recording his first six outs by strikeouts. He finished with seven strikeouts in four innings.

Morales homered again in the fourth, but McHugh allowed no other scoring. Jake Marisnick, playing center field in place of Carlos Gomez, who had an intercostal strain, helped quell the most significant Royals threat against McHugh, charging and diving to snag a sinking line drive by Alcides Escobar in the fifth with two on.

“He kept us off balance with his off-speed stuff,” Yost said of McHugh. “After sitting for an hour, my hope was maybe he’d stiffen up a little bit. But he came back as sharp as he was the first two innings.”

Houston added to its lead with two solo home runs: George Springer connected in the fifth against Young, and Colby Rasmus homered on the first pitch from Ryan Madson in the eighth.

Kansas City threatened in the eighth, putting two runners on with two outs. Yet another former Met, the left-hander Oliver Perez, came on to retire Eric Hosmer on a foul pop to third. Luke Gregerson closed with a scoreless ninth, striking out two, to make McHugh a postseason winner almost three decades after Scott.

“He never throws the same pitch twice in a row,” Hinch said. “He never ends up in the middle of the plate. He can back-door things. He can cut in on guys when they’ve got some lefties in there. His big breaking ball looks like it’s tough to pick up. He has a lot of weapons to pitch to some weaknesses in the hitters.

“He’s put together a string of starts that will convince you. You don’t sneak up on 19 wins.”

Now he has one more.



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