By Gregor Chisholm and Keegan Matheson
TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson's three-run home run in the fifth inning jumpstarted a late offensive surge from the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon in their 7-2 win over the Astros.
Despite some early walks and inconsistencies from Astros starter Mike Fiers, the Blue Jays were held hitless until that fifth frame. Another strong outing from Marcus Stroman allowed the Blue Jays to hang around long enough to capitalize, as the right-hander dodged trouble all afternoon.
Toronto turned a double play in each of the first four innings and Stroman induced two of those with ground balls after entering the game tied for the MLB lead with 18 GIDP. He gave the Blue Jays seven innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits and three walks while striking out six to lower his ERA to 3.26. This was his first outing since leaving a start against the Yankees after five innings with a blister on his right hand.
"Stroman was dynamite today, against a good hitting club, too," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "His finger was great, but he just stayed on the attack. A close game, and then we hit the big home runs late. That's kind of how we do it."
Troy Tulowitzki provided the other big blow for Toronto with his second home run in as many days, a three-run shot off All-Star reliever Chris Devenski.
Fiers managed to work around his control issues until the fifth inning, but he saw his pitch count climb early. After three, Fiers had thrown an even 30 strikes and 30 balls, but he pushed through six frames with five hits, four walks and six strikeouts.
"I thought he held his own right to the very end," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "Obviously there were a few walks in there, and the hit-by-pitch with [Jose] Bautista kind of kickstarted the big inning against him. He came back after that and had a nice sixth."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Donaldson goes vertical and turns two: Houston was threatening with runners on the corners and nobody out in the third, but a defensive gem from Donaldson halted their momentum. Donaldson jumped high to snag a Carlos Correa liner that left the bat at 100.2 mph, according to Statcast™. The third baseman quickly threw across the diamond to double up Josh Reddick at first base. Stroman escaped the inning by forcing the next batter, Gattis, to pop out.
"Huge momentum shifter," Stroman said. "JD just showing off his athleticism. I felt like after that play, it kind of just told me to get back into the zone. My guys were picking me up, I needed to do my part. Shoutout to JD for that, man, that was incredible."
The bats awake, at last: Fiers was struggling with his inside control to right-handers in the fifth, and after plunking Bautista, ran a pitch up and in on Donaldson. Donaldson answered back by launching a three-run home run, the 150th of his career, to left-center field that Statcast™ measured at 432 feet.
"They all feel pretty good, but the fact of the matter was, that was the situation, I don't think the guy was trying to do it intentionally," Donaldson said. "But at the same token, it's up around the head area, and nobody appreciates that. At the end of the day, I was happy to help our team win."
"There's a lot of show with him. He fed off a little bit of the emotion of being able to get out of some of his own jams." -- Hinch, on Stroman
"I think I should have been there, 100 percent. I think I've pitched well enough. That's all I'm going to say. I think I should be there, 100 percent." -- Stroman, on not being named to the American League All-Star team
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros extended their franchise record by hitting a double in their 45th consecutive game. The MLB record belongs to Cleveland in 1996 with 75 consecutive games.
Justin Smoak set a career high with his 56th RBI. His previous high was 55 in 2011.
Smoak sent a soaring RBI double to the wall in the sixth to score Russell Martin, but the Blue Jays challenged the play to see if the ball had actually cleared the wall for a home run and hit the facing of the bleachers. After review, however, the play was upheld.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Brad Peacock (6-1, 2.91 ERA) will close out the series for the Astros at 12:07 p.m. CT Sunday afternoon on MLB.TV at Rogers Centre. After starting the season on a roll in the bullpen, Peacock has posted a 3.66 ERA over eight starts with 58 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings.
Blue Jays: Left-hander J.A. Happ (3-5, 3.47 ERA) will take the mound when the first half of the season comes to a close at Rogers Centre, with first pitch scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Happ has allowed three runs or fewer in all but one of his seven starts since coming off the disabled list with a left elbow injury, and he has regained his form from 2016 when he won a career-high 20 games.