HOUSTON — Back in the place where he'd received so many cheers over the years, one more ovation after a long and difficult time away was almost too much for manager A.J. Hinch to take.
Casey Mize tossed seven scoreless innings for his first career win and fellow rookie Akil Baddoo homered again as the Detroit Tigers beat the Astros 6-2 on Monday night in Hinch's first trip to Houston since he was fired for his role in the team's sign-stealing scheme.
Hinch spent five seasons in Houston, winning the 2017 World Series and helping turn around a team that had sunk to embarrassing lows during a rebuild in the years before he arrived. The Astros won more than 100 games in each of his last three seasons, capped by a franchise-best 107 wins in 2019 when they lost to the Washington Nationals in the World Series.
He received a standing ovation when he was introduced before the game and the team played a tribute video to him on the big screen. As the last frame of the video displayed the words: "Thank you A.J.," he stepped onto the field and tipped his cap to the crowd, which roared with approval.
The Astros gave Hinch a heads up before the video was played and it still got to him.
"This place is very special to me," he said. "It's the only time I've ever been uncomfortable in this setting, in this building. I really do appreciate it. It touched me. I wanted to get out and tip my cap and then get back in before I showed too much emotion."
Hinch was suspended by baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred for a year in January 2020 and subsequently fired by owner Jim Crane for his role in the scheme that violated rules by using a video camera to steal catchers' signs during Houston's run to the 2017 title and again during the 2018 season.
Renato Núñez and Grayson Greiner also homered as the Tigers jumped on Zack Greinke (1-1) for six runs to snap a four-game skid.
"We needed a good performance," Hinch said. "Emotional night for me personally. I think our guys knew that and responded with a great effort across the board."
His two up-and-coming stars helped him to a sweet return as the Tigers handed the Astros their third consecutive loss after a 6-1 start. Mize (1-0), the top overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft who was making his ninth start, yielded four hits and fanned five in the longest start of his big league career.
"The kid has good stuff," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "Early it looked like he was going to be wild and then he got some runs and he settled down. He kept us off balance with his split finger."
Mize got stronger as the game progressed, retiring nine of the last 10 batters he faced before being replaced by Buck Farmer to start the eighth.
The Tigers didn't score in the first inning, but they taxed Greinke, forcing him to throw 27 pitches to escape a bases loaded jam. His trouble continued in the second when Núñez doubled to start the inning before Greiner's one-out shot to right field made it 2-0.
Núñez and Baddoo hit back-to-back homers with two outs in the third to extend the lead to 4-0. Baddoo, who homered on his first major league pitch this season, drove a fastball from Greinke 450 feet to the seats in center field for his third career homer.
The 22-year-old Baddoo hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Greiner chased Greinke with an RBI single after that.
Greinke yielded 10 hits and six runs while walking three in 4 2/3 innings.
The Astros went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position, but got solo homers from Michael Brantley in the eighth and Carlos Correa in the ninth to avoid a shutout.
Tigers: A day after Miguel Cabrera landed on the 10-day injured list with a left biceps strain, Hinch said that that tests showed that it was a mild strain. But Hinch still isn't sure how long it will keep the slugger out. "We don't feel like it's major, but we feel like he's going to need a little bit of rest and some therapy in order to get himself back ramped up, and we'll see how long that takes," Hinch said.
ABANDONING THE SLIDER?
Greinke was not happy with his slider on Monday night and was especially critical of two that he threw Núñez for his homer and a double.
"I don't want to ever throw it again after today," he said.
He said he hasn't it hasn't been good since he reported to camp, so maybe it's time to move on from the pitch.
"It's been a big negative to the season — spring training and the season," he said. "It's just been bad so I'm going to focus on the other pitches, pitches I throw good from here on out."
Houston's Jake Odorizzi will make his season debut when the series continues Tuesday night. Odorizzi's first start of the season was delayed because he didn't sign with the Astros until March 8. He'll oppose left-hander Matthew Boyd (1-1, 2.13 ERA).