Pena’s homer lifts Astros to 3-1 win over Jays

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays offence stalled to waste Yariel Rodriguez’s best start in his young career in their series opener against the Houston Astros on Monday.

Engaged in a pitching duel with Houston’s Hunter Brown (6-5), Rodriguez surrendered a solo homer to Jeremy Pena in the fifth inning of a 3-1 defeat before 39,265 at Rogers Centre on Canada Day.

The red-uniform-wearing Blue Jays had the bases loaded with one out in the second and eighth innings but failed to cash in.

“We just needed a hit in certain spots,” Toronto manager John Schneider said. “Twice, we loaded the bases with one out and couldn’t take advantage.

“But (Brown’s) a good pitcher. He’s on a good roll in his last seven or eight.”

Brown went 4-0 in his five starts in June as the Astros built Major League Baseball’s best record last month at 17-8.

The Astros (43-41) won their 10th in 11 starts. The Blue Jays (38-46) have lost nine of 12.

“We’ve been playing our brand of baseball,” Pena said. “We’ve been pitching really well, we’ve been playing good defence. We’ve been getting timely hits. That’s when we’re at our best.”Yordan Alvarez put on the finishing touches for Houston with a two-run homer to left field in the ninth inning off Blue Jays reliever Zach Pop. Ernie Clement answered with a solo shot in the bottom of the final inning of Josh Hader, who earned his 13th save.

Rodriguez (0-3) set down the first 14 Astros in a row, but his no-hit bid went by the wayside when shortstop Pena smacked a first-pitch curveball to left field for his sixth homer.“It was the first pitch and I was just trying to throw a strike,” the 27-year-old Cuban said.

Rodriguez made his second start since returning from a back injury 11 days ago. He mixed in his fastball and slider for six strikeouts, three fly-ball outs and five groundouts before Pena’s bomb.“I understand it was a special day for the fans, being Canada Day,” Rodriguez said. “I did what I could to get us the win.”

After he issued a two-out walk to Jon Singleton in the seventh inning and with Pena returning to the plate, Rodriguez was replaced by reliever Trevor Richards.

In his 83-pitch, 6 2/3-inning effort, Rodrigues yielded two hits with two walks and six strikeouts.“This was the first time we’ve seen him,” Pena said. “He had really good stuff. I felt like he was locating pitches pretty well.”

In the second inning, Brown coaxed Clement into a pop-out at the pitcher’s mound and stuck out Kevin Kiermaier with the bases loaded.

Brown retired nine in a row before a bloop single to right field from Clement in the fifth inning. The Astros starter breezed through the sixth inning, striking out Justin Turner, George Springer and Daulton Varsho.

Brown gave way to reliever Rafael Montero after striking out the side. In his six innings and 99 pitches, Brown shut out Toronto on two hits, three walks and five strikeouts.

The Blue Jays again loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning, this time on reliever Bryan Abreu. But Springer lined out to third base and Varsho grounded out to second.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa initially was in Toronto’s starting lineup but was pulled at the last minute because of a left knee ailment.

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