By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — A perfect fit in their own place, the Houston Astros are halfway home.
George Springer and the Astros broke out the bats early this time to keep up their unbeaten October run at spirited Minute Maid Park, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 Friday night for a 2-1 lead in the World Series.
“We’re very comfortable here,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
You can say that again.
Houston moved two wins from its first championship, but the game also included this: Yuli Gurriel made a racist gesture shortly after homering off Japanese star Yu Darvish. Major League Baseball will follow up, and punishment is possible.
The ballpark was booming hours earlier, with cheers, chants and a train whistle echoing beneath the closed roof.
Deep in the heart of football country, a sellout crowd stood much of the evening. And with every Houston batter getting a hit or walk, fans enjoyed the Friday Night Sights.
“The energy in the building is second to none,” Hinch said. “It’s loud. They’re loud from the very beginning.”
Coming off a dramatic rally to win Game 2 at Dodger Stadium, the Astros improved to 7-0 at home this postseason. Jose Altuve & Co. have dominated, too, outscoring the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers 36-10 in that span.
Gurriel homered to begin a four-run burst in the second inning that sent Darvish to the shortest start of his career.
Back in the dugout, Gurriel put his fingers to the side of his eyes and said “chinito” — a derogatory Spanish term that translates literally to “little Chinese.” Gurriel, from Cuba, previously played in Japan.
“I feel bad and I apologize for anybody who got offended,” Gurriel said through a translator.
Darvish, through a translator, said, “Acting like that, you just disrespect all the people around the world.”
Astros curveballer Lance McCullers Jr. wobbled, but protected the lead into the sixth.Brad Peacock rose to the occasion with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief for his first pro save.
With every pitch by Peacock in the ninth, the decibel level increased.
“To tell you the truth, when I was out there a couple of times, I got the chills from them screaming so loud,” he said.
Springer lined a leadoff double in the first and the Astros went on to win a home game for the first time in the World Series. They were swept by the White Sox in 2005, and this win left them two victories from a most elusive championship.
Game 4 will be Saturday night when Charlie Morton starts for Houston. Left-hander Alex Wood pitches for the Dodgers, facing a lineup that has put at least one runner on in 14 straight innings.
“Obviously, this crowd is into it. Very educated, very enthusiastic,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They’ve got some confidence over there, that team.”
McCullers left in the sixth as Los Angeles scored twice to cut into a 5-1 deficit.
Peacock followed, and shouldered the load for a shaky bullpen. The right-hander was nearly perfect, walking one and striking out four.
“It was awesome,” said Peacock, who made 21 starts and 13 relief appearances during the regular season. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”
Coupled with four shutout innings from McCullers to finish off the Yankees in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, the unconventional Astros became the first team to have two saves of three-plus innings in one postseason.
On a night when a lot went right for Houston, also credit third base coach Gary Pettis, who’s been having quite a postseason. He boldly sent Josh Reddick careening home on a wild throw by reliever Tony Watson for a two-out run in the fifth.
The Astros rode the momentum of a thrilling victory Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Marwin Gonzalez hit a tying homer in the ninth on an 0-2 pitch from star closer Kenley Jansen, and Houston went deep three times in extra innings before hanging on to win 7-6 in 11 on Springer’s two-run shot.
Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger almost won that game with a drive that was caught on the warning track in the ninth. He fanned all four times up in Game 3, leaving him 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts in the Series.
“I think he’s just in that funk right now where he’s chasing balls out of the strike zone,” Roberts said.
This game wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the previous one, not that the home crowd minded.
Fans were revved up from the start when injured Houston Texas defensive end J.J. Watt — who has raised more than $37 million for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey — hobbled out to the mound on crutches to throw the first ball.
Soon, it was time for the Houston hitters to take over.
Gurriel homered into the Crawford Boxes in left to begin the second — he became the 12th hitter already to homer in this Series. Reddick followed with a double and Evan Gattis, the designated hitter with the game in an American League park, drew a walk.
Gonzalez launched a drive off the wall in left-center and wound up with an RBI single when Gattis held at second , seeing if the ball would be caught. Brian McCann singled home another run with one of his three hits , and Alex Bregman’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
When Altuve doubled, Darvish was done after 1 2/3 innings. He threw 49 pitches and the Astros swung and missed only once.
Darvish had done well at Minute Maid, going 4-1. That included a 2013 start when he was one out from a perfect game for the Rangers before Gonzalez singled.
“The fastball command wasn’t there, and the slider was backing up. So he just really didn’t have the feel and couldn’t get any type of rhythm going,” Roberts said.
Last month, Darvish and several Dodgers players wore Houston Strong T-shirts to raise money for hurricane relief. The four-time All-Star who previously played in Texas also contributed to the relief efforts.
On Thursday, Darvish kidded that maybe his goodwill would lead to good luck.
“Since I made that donation, maybe I can use a ball that doesn’t have much pop in it,” he said through a translator.
Nope, didn’t quite work out that way.
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