HOUSTON – Dusty Baker has managed thousands of games in his big league career, and none were quite like his debut with the scandal-ridden Houston Astros.
The 71-year-old manager posted a win in his first game as Houston's manager and the Astros, playing for the first time since their sign-stealing scam rocked baseball, opened the season by beating the Seattle Mariners 8-2 Friday night.
“The guys had a lot of energy, a lot of belief and a lot of relief, getting back and playing a real game, because it didn’t look like this was even going to happen," Baker said.
Hoping to put a turbulent offseason behind them, the Astros started out with a victory at empty Minute Maid Park, the same place that was pulsating last October before Washington rallied late to win Game 7 of the World Series.
“You’re on the road playing a team that was in the World Series last year and there’s nobody there, and it’s just crazy," Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Just a different feeling."
Michael Brantley hit a three-run homer to back Justin Verlander.
Baker posted a victory in his 3,500th regular-season game as a manager.
“That was the strangest opener of my career," Baker said.
Baker took over after manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired after being suspended for a year for their roles in the cheating during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season.
Hooted and heckled on the road in spring training before camp was shut in mid-March, the Astros had no trouble with Seattle. No Houston batters were hit by pitches — in their last summer camp tuneup this week, stars José Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer were plunked in an exhibition game at Kansas City.
The Astros went 18-1 against the Mariners last season. They got six solid innings from Verlander (1-0) to help them to their 14th straight victory over Seattle, setting a franchise record for most consecutive wins against any opponent.
Verlander struck out seven and walked one as he became the ninth pitcher in MLB history to make 12 opening day starts. He allowed just three hits, but the first two were solo homers to give the Mariners an early lead.
He talked about what it was like to get back on the field amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously guys are risking a lot here, myself included with a young daughter at home, to bring America's pastime back to people and hopefully cheer them up and give them a little bit of a reprieve from a lot of the stuff that's been happening," he said.
The Astros trailed by one entering the fifth inning after a home run Kyle Seager in the fourth. Houston tied it at 2 on an RBI single by Altuve that chased starter Marco Gonzales (0-1). Zac Grotz took over and was greeted with Bregman’s run-scoring single that put the Astros on top.
Brantley then sent an off-speed pitch deep into the seats in right field to extend the lead to 6-2.
Rookie Kyle Lewis, who was one of 10 Mariners to make their first opening day roster, hit a home run to the train tracks atop left field to open the second inning and make it 1-0.
Martín Maldonado tied it with an RBI single in the Houston third an added an RBI with a single in the sixth. Carlos Correa tacked on a run with an RBI double in the seventh.
Both teams wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during batting practice and most players knelt during a moment of unity before the national anthem. No one from either team knelt during the anthem, but Seattle players Justus Sheffield, J.P. Crawford, Dee Gordon, Shed Long, Lewis and Mallex Smith all raised their right fists as Lyle Lovett sang it virtually.
VERLANDER TALKS RACE
When asked about most of the team kneeling before the anthem on Friday night, Verlander addressed it before speaking at length about his recent realizations about race and racism.
“When I look in the mirror now especially given my platform, it’s not good enough just to say: ‘OK, I’m not racist,’” he said. “I think that over the past six, seven years that’s shown that that’s not enough. There needs to be change in our culture. I think bringing attention to it the way we did is a good way to do it.”
Astros: DH Aledmys Díaz left after the fifth inning with groin discomfort. ... DH Yordan Álvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, and right-hander Jose Urquidy were cleared for baseball activities Friday and will report to the team’s alternate training location in Corpus Christi, Texas. Neither player practiced with the team during camp and both were placed on the injured list on July 12 for undisclosed reasons.
Houston RHP Lance McCullers will make his first start since 2018 after missing last season following Tommy John surgery when the series continues Saturday. He’ll be opposed by Seattle RHP Taijuan Walker, who appeared in just one game last season after having Tommy John surgery in 2018.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/MLBbaseball