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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — José Abreu hit a three-run homer for Houston in a four-run first inning against Sonny Gray and piled on with a two-run shot in the ninth, powering the Astros past the Minnesota Twins 9-1 on Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in their AL Division Series.

Yordan Alvarez hit his fourth home run in three games and Alex Bregman had a homer and an RBI single for the defending World Series champions, who took charge from their first at-bat and moved within one win of a seventh consecutive AL Championship Series appearance. Astros starter Cristian Javier took it from there with nine strikeouts in five scoreless innings.

Game 4 is at Target Field on Wednesday. If the Twins force Game 5, it would be in Houston on Friday.

Javier has been uneven at best this year, with a 4.56 ERA that was by far his worst in four major league seasons. He failed to finish five innings in five of his prior 11 starts.

Manager Dusty Baker expressed confidence in the 26-year-old since the series began, a belief he connected to his extended experience of seeing Javier at his best.

The right-hander, who threw six hitless innings in World Series Game 4 last year to beat Philadelphia, lowered his career postseason ERA to 1.91 over 37 2/3 innings.

With 13 misses in 16 swings at Javier's slider, the Twins flailed through the late afternoon shadows in a feeble response to the early explosion by the Astros. Javier allowed only one hit, a one-out double by Max Kepler in the first that put two runners in scoring position. Javier responded with consecutive strikeouts of Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa.

With five walks and one hit batter, Javier provided the Twins plenty of opportunities to catch up. They loaded the bases on walks in the fifth inning, but Kepler and Lewis ended the inning with strikeoutst.

The Twins left nine men on base and went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Correa, who has a hit in all five postseason games and is 9 for 19 with four RBIs, scored on Willi Castro's one-out single in the sixth. But Jeremy Peña made a diving stop at shortstop of a grounder rocketed by Ryan Jeffers and leaped to his feet to start a double play.

QUICK CHANGE

Jose Altuve greeted Gray with a single, and a one-out bouncer down the first-base line eluded Alex Kirilloff’s glove for a two-base error. Kyle Tucker put the Astros on the board with a single. Then Abreu smashed a 2-1 sweeper into the second deck for a 4-0 lead that took some buzz out of the ballpark.

The Twins were blown away by the energy boost that came from their crowd during the Wild Card Series clincher last week against Toronto, after which manager Rocco Baldelli said the fans “took over the game.” Splitting the first two games in Houston gave the Twins home-field advantage, and they sold out Target Field three days in advance.

Johan Santana threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Joe Mauer, two all-time Twins greats who always prompt a roar. Santana took off his jacket to reveal a Pablo López jersey after López, who grew up idolizing his fellow Venezuelan, brought the ball to the mound.

The Astros were hardly going to be fazed by the environment. They went 51-30 on the road, the third-best record in baseball, and have made October games quite a habit since their run started in 2017. Alvarez is 6 for 12 with six RBIs in the series. Bregman hit his 16th career postseason home run.

GOING DEEP

Gray gave up two home runs in a game for the first time in two seasons with the Twins. The last multi-homer game against him was on Sept. 24, 2021, with Cincinnati.

The eighth major league pitcher since 2000 to throw at least 180 innings with eight or fewer homers allowed, Gray was the runaway leader in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings this year (0.391). He gave up eight hits and one walk in four-plus innings, with five runs — one unearned — and six strikeouts.

UP NEXT

The Astros were keeping their plans for a Game 4 starting pitcher private, preferring to see how Game 3 unfolded before committing. RHP José Urquidy was the most obvious option. He beat the Twins in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series in 2020.

The Twins will send RHP Joe Ryan to the mound on Wednesday for his first career postseason start. He has allowed 13 earned runs, nine walks and three home runs in 14 innings with 19 strikeouts over three career starts against the Astros.

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