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Pablo Lopez keeps Astros in check, helps Twins even series

HOUSTON — Prior to the opener of the American League Division Series, Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli expressed confidence that right-hander Pablo Lopez would deliver an exceptional performance when he started Game 2.

Lopez did not disappoint, tossing seven shutout innings while shortstop Carlos Correa moved into a tie for third place in career postseason RBIs as Minnesota evened the best-of-five series with a 6-2 victory over the host Houston Astros on Sunday.

Lopez (2-0), making his third career postseason start, was brilliant in helping the Twins square the series at a game apiece with Game 3 set for Tuesday at Target Field in Minneapolis. He allowed six hits, including five singles, and one walk while recording seven strikeouts.

The Astros went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against Lopez. Only one baserunner reached third with Lopez on the mound: Kyle Tucker advanced from second base on a Michael Brantley single to left field with two outs in the fourth inning, but he was stranded there when Lopez struck out Chas McCormick.

Lopez retired the Astros in order in the second and sixth innings, and induced a double-play grounder from Martin Maldonado after Jeremy Pena’s leadoff single in the third.

“I felt really comfortable on the mound,” Lopez said. “Yeah, we came up with a good plan. It was all about executing after that and really trying to remain unpredictable. Again, against a lineup like that, you want to keep a level of not being predictable and then really use the pitches you want to use to work on the areas you want to work.”

Correa, selected first overall by Houston in the 2012 draft, burnished his postseason reputation against his former club. His double with two outs in the first drove in Jorge Polanco and provided the Twins with a 1-0 lead. Correa chased Astros left-hander Framber Valdez (0-1) with a single in the fifth that scored Michael A. Taylor and Donovan Solano and built the lead to 5-0.

Astros manager Dusty Baker opted to let Valdez face Correa for a third time, hopeful that Valdez could induce an inning-ending double play like he did in the second. Valdez finished the regular season with a 54.2 ground ball percentage.

“He’s one of the best double-play guys in the league,” Baker said. “Correa’s hit into (a major-league-leading) 30 double plays. Anybody else that I brought in there in that situation wasn’t as good a double play guy as Framber.”

Correa finished 3-for-4 with a walk, two doubles and three RBIs, surpassing Derek Jeter and David Ortiz and matching David Justice with 63 career postseason RBIs. He affixed a cherry on top of his performance with a dazzling defensive play for the final out of the game.

“We’ve always heard all of the sayings and things, when the lights come on and the bright lights, there are some guys, they’re giants in the light, and he’s one of them,” Baldelli said. “That’s what he (Correa) is.”

Valdez, who surrendered a two-run home run to Kyle Farmer in the second, allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. Yordan Alvarez hit his third home run of the series in the eighth, a two-run shot off Brock Stewart, but the Astros saw their 12-game ALDS winning streak at Minute Maid Park come to an end.

–MK Bower, Field Level Media

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