Alvarez, Julks deliver late, Astros top Braves 5-2

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Astros top Braves
Houston Astros' Corey Julks (9) celebrates with David Hensley (17) after scoring against the Atlanta Braves in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

ATLANTA (AP) — Yordan Alvarez tied the game with a two-run single in the eighth inning, Corey Julks had a go-ahead pinch-hit single in the ninth, and the Houston Astros won their fourth straight, 5-2 over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.

“Corey fouled off some good pitches and then had that single that was big,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said after his team completed a three-game sweep in this matchup of the last two World Series champions. “It was a good series.”

The defending champion Astros loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth against reliever Nick Anderson before closer A.J. Minter (1-2) entered to face Alvarez, who delivered the hit that made it 2-all.

Minter allowed two batters to reach in the ninth before Julks delivered a single to left-center that gave Houston a 3-2 lead. Alex Bregman added a two-run single off Danny Young.

“To come in here and play our brand of baseball, probably I felt like three pretty complete games for the first time this year, was cool,” Bregman said.

Added Julks: “I wasn’t trying to do too much. Just trying to see the ball up, over the plate and take a nice swing.”

The Braves, winners of the last five NL East titles and the 2021 World Series over Houston, lost their fourth straight game for the first time since dropping two apiece to Colorado and San Francisco from Aug. 14-18, 2021.

Alvarez went 1-for-5 after hitting a two-run homer in each of the first two games of this series. He has 26 RBIs after beginning the day with the second-most by an Astros player in his first 21 games. Lance Berkman had 26 through 21 games in 2002.

Minter, who blew a save opportunity on Alvarez’s homer Friday, gave up three hits and three runs as his ERA swelled to 5.73.

“I can’t be too discouraged about it because I thought I made some pretty good pitches,” he said. “They just hit ’em where we weren’t, so you’ve got to chalk that one up and be ready to go tomorrow.”

Hector Neris (2-1) worked a scoreless eighth and Bryan Abreu pitched the ninth for his second save.

Atlanta made it 2-0 in the sixth when Ronald Acuña Jr. doubled and scored as second baseman Mauricio Dubón threw errantly to first while trying to turn a double play.

Braves starter Max Fried, facing the Astros for the first time in the regular season, worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and three walks. The ace’s day ended after he walked Bregman, struck out the next two batters and walked Kyle Tucker in the seventh.

Anderson struck out Jeremy Peña to end the threat.

Astros top Braves

“I made some good pitches when I needed to,” Fried said. “I felt really confident. The bullpen’s been doing a good job all year. It was just one of those games where we ran into a good team.”

Fried made a pair of starts against Houston in the 2021 World Series, pitching six scoreless innings in the clinching Game 6 victory.

Astros starter Cristian Javier had retired 10 in a row before Kevin Pillar hit his first homer of the season, a 377-foot shot to left field that made it 1-0 in the fifth. Before that, Javier gave up only a double to Sam Hilliard. He worked six innings, allowing three hits, two walks and two runs — one earned — and struck out 10, his fourth career double-digit strikeout game.

STILL GOING

Dubón extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games, the longest in the AL this season and the longest active streak in the majors, with an eighth-inning single.

HE’S FAST

Acuña swiped his 12th base, most in the majors.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: OF Michael Brantley was set to begin a rehab assignment Sunday with Triple-A Sugar Land. He has been sidelined since last season after undergoing right shoulder surgery. … Baker said OF Chas McCormick, out with lower back tightness, is unlikely to be ready to come off the injured list when he is eligible Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Raisel Iglesias will throw live batting practice Monday. He’s been sidelined since spring training with right shoulder soreness. … RHP Collin McHugh, sidelined since April 5 with right shoulder soreness, is likely to rejoin the team Monday.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP José Urquidy (1-1, 3.66 ERA) will face RHP Taj Bradley (2-0, 2.61) on Monday as Houston opens a three-game series at Tampa Bay.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider (2-0, 2.45) will face RHP Edward Cabrera (1-1, 4.08) as Atlanta begins a three-game home series against Miami.