The Tigers got the victory, but their streak of games with ten or more strikeouts came to an end, three pitchers combing for six punch outs. Their AL record K streak ends at seven games, one short of the Milwaukee Brewers' MLB record.
Winning pitcher Drew Smyly tossed two innings, retiring all six Astros he faced. Jose Valverde pitched the ninth, nailing down his third save in three opportunities since being rescued off the scrap heap.
Jose Veras (0-2) entered the game in the ninth inning looking for his third save of the year. He would be instead tagged with the loss, giving up Avila's game winner.
Jose Altuve had three hits and and an RBI for the Astros, and was robbed of two more hits by the Tigers' defense. Robbie Grossman also chipped in an RBI single.
Along with Avila's ninth inning heroics, Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez had RBI singles for the Tigers, who could only muster six hits on the night against four Astros pitchers.
Facing starter Bud Norris, the Tigers put a runner in scoring position in the second inning with two down. Prince Fielder drew a lead off walk, Don Kelly hitting into a fielder's choice for the second out. Kelly stole second to give Peralta a two out RBI opportunity.
Peralta made the most of the opportunity, lining a single to left. Tom Brookens didn't let Matt Tuiasosopo getting thrown out at the plate last night temper his aggressiveness, sending Kelly home. Chris Carter's throw was well off line, Kelly scoring to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Fister followed up with a shut-down bottom half of the inning, setting the Astros down in order on three consecutive ground balls.
Fister's knack for hitting batters bit him in the bottom of the third, a breaking ball clipped Robbie Grossman on the back foot with two out.
Eddie Gaedel Altuve singled for the second straight at bat to move Grossman into scoring position. Fister was able to pitch out of the two out threat on Jason Castro's pop fly to left.
As has become commonplace, Miguel Cabrera showed off his almost supernatural opposite field power. This time it was in the top of the fourth, hitting what looked like a lazy fly ball to right. What I thought was a lazy fly ball carried all the way to the base of the right field fence for a lead off double.
Cabrera then suckered Rick Ankiel on Fielder's fly ball to medium left. Cabera made as if he was holding at second, leading Ankiel to nonchalantly make the play. But Cabrera tagged up, beating the strong-armed right fielder's throw to third.
Martinez followed by sending a line drive over the head of Ankiel, the ball either bouncing off the top of the wall or landing in the seats and bouncing back on the field. The fly ball was ruled a NOT a home run, Martinez credited with a long RBI single.
The play was reviewed. The one angle umpires had available to them showed the ball disappearing from sight, then bouncing back on the field. Well, that's what I thought I saw on what was a crappy angle. The umps saw different, letting the play stand as an RBI single instead of a two run homer.
The inning would end with the Tigers up 2-0 rather than 3-0.
Fister would find himself in a jam in the bottom half of the inning, suddenly losing command after allowing a pair of two out singles to Carter and Matt Dominguez. Fister walked Ankiel to lead the bases, then went to 3-0 on Marwin Gonzalez.
As quickly as the inning turned for the worse, Fister would just as quickly regain his bearings. Gonzalez bounced to Peralta on a 3-1 pitch to end a scary inning.
The Tigers would threaten to extend their lead, but would not score in the top of the fifth.
One down, Omar Infante singled to center, Dirks following with a single to right. Runners on the corners, Hunter struck out swinging. But Dirks was running and stole second base, giving Cabrera a two out, two RBI opportunity.
It was almost shocking Cabrera made the final out to the inning (this season he was hitting .615 with two out and runners in scoring position), popping up to ex-Tiger Carlos Pena at first.
Fister shrugged off his struggles of the fourth, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, including his fourth strikeout. Fister held the lead, but the ten strikeout streak was officially in jeopardy.
The night rolled on to the seventh inning, both starters still in a 2-0 game. Norris had a pitch count of 92, Fister at 84. Good thing for both teams, considering the Tigers used four relievers and the Astros seven last night.
Peralta led off the seventh by drawing a base on balls. A still struggling Alex Avila moved him over with a cue shot ground ball to third base. That was as far as Peralta would go, Infante striking out, Dirks bouncing to first.
The Astros would kick up their heels in the bottom of the seventh, the first two batters reaching base on line shots.
Dominguez yanked a double into the left field corner, Ankiel nearly killing Fister with a rocket through the box. Fister got his glove on the line drive (nearly beaning him), but it had more than enough steam to make it into center, Dominguez moving to third.
The Tigers' bullpen stirring, Gonzalez hit a ground ball toward the hole in the right side. Last night, Infante made a similar, but much harder, play. Tonight, it bounced off his glove for a run-scoring error. Dominguez crossed the plate, Ankiel and Gonzalez both moving into scoring position.
The pesky Grossman lined an RBI single to left, Ankiel crossing to plate to tie the game 2-all.
Gaedel Altuve hit a ground ball through Fister's five-hole. Peralta had a tough play to nail a speedy Altuve as it was, but the difficulty was compounded when the ball hit the bag. The grounder bounced up to hit Peralta in the chest. He didn't drop it, but the extra time needed to corral the hop assured Altuve would be safe at first with an infield RBI single, his third hit of the night.
Four straight Astros had reached base on three hits and an error, knocking Fister out of the game while taking a 3-2 lead. There were still two on with no one out..
His work cut out for him, Drew Smyly got the call, making his first appearance since Tuesday. Smyly got the first out of the inning on Castro's fly ball. The runners advanced to second and third on Pena's high chopper to Fielder. Needing one out to finish off the Houdini act, Snyly struck out Carlos Corporan swinging, the eighth batter of the inning.
Fister's final line was still a quality start, but the seventh inning badly skewed the numbers: 6+ IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K's, 99 pitches. He was now on the hook for the loss if the Tigers' offense didn't wake up.
All of a sudden the Martinez home run-not a home run loomed large.
Norris' night was over as well, Bo Porter pulling his starter for Hector Ambriz, who would face the meat of the Tigers' order in the eighth.
Hunter hit a 1-3 come-backer, Cabrera struck out swinging on a 3-1 pitch after nearly tying the game up, yanking a home run length fly ball foul.
Porter made another change, calling on lefty Travis Blackley to face Fielder. Fielder worked a six pitch walk, giving Martinez a chance with a runner on base.
Martinez would pull a foul ball even further down the left field line than Cabrera, a loud strike before grounding to short, ending the inning.
Smyly did his part, pitching a 1-2-3 eighth in what was a very effective outing out of the pen.
Entering the game in the top of the ninth, Veras got a rare save opportunity for the Astros. It did not go well.
Kelly, as he has as of late, was in the middle of a late rally, drawing a lead off walk. Peralta made a bid for a two run homer, flying out to deep left center.
Avila also made a bid for a game-winning home run. The difference? His was successful!
After thinking he was walked on 3-0 pitch called strike one, Avila crushed a 92 MPH Veras fastball, clearing the wall in deep right center for a two run home run. Avila's fourth home run of the season allowed the Tigers to re-take the lead at 4-3.
A game which looked all but over was now in the hands of Jose Valverde.
Papa Grande came out of the pen throwing strikes, Gonzalez looking at strike three. But the annoyingly pesky Grossman reached on a four pitch walk, bringing up the just as effective Altuve.
Altuve reached out and poked a looper just out the infield. But Infante, making up for his earlier miscue, made a marvelous play, grabbing the ball in short right, throwing off balance to nip Altuve in a bang-bang play, robbing him of a single.
Two down. Valverde being Valverde, he fell behind 3-0 on Castro. Working back to 3-2, Valverde threw a splitter which Castro hit hard, but right at Donnie Baseball for the final out.
Unlike it his last save, it was not a pretty. But it still says SV in the box score next to Valverde's name. I'll take it over the alternative.
As for Avila, call it redemption, call it luck, or just say he was due. Whatever it was, the game winner was a big hit from a player who has done the same in the past.
The Tigers are now 8-2 in their last ten games, winning their second straight in Houston to raise their record to 17-11. The Tigers move 1/2 game in front of the Kansas City Royals in the Central, their match up against the Chicago White Sox postponed by weather.
The Astros fall to 8-22 on the season, 9 1/2 games back of the first place Texas Rangers in the West.
In the third game of the long weekend series, the Tigers have Max Scherzer (3-0, 4.02, 13.21 K/9) on the mound facing the Astros' Lucas Harrell (3-2, 3.60, three game winning streak). First pitch is 7:10 PM eastern.