HOUSTON (AP) — For all his recent struggles at the plate, Detroit catcher Alex Avila picked the perfect time to come up with a big hit.
With his team trailing in the ninth inning, Avila hit a two-run home run to lift the Tigers to a 4-3 win over the Astros on Friday night.
"I felt great," Avila said of the game-winning blast to deep center field. "Timing is everything with those, right?"
Avila took a 3-1 fastball by Houston closer Jose Veras to deep center field. Veras had walked Don Kelly to start the inning.
"Hopefully that will get him going, get some confidence going," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Avila. "That was a big one."
Especially after Jose Altuve's clutch RBI single in the seventh inning gave the Astros a 3-2 lead to cap a three-run rally. With the homer, Avila snapped an 0-for-8 streak at the plate.
"I was swinging the bat pretty good and then I had a bad week," Avila said. "Things can change pretty quickly."
Houston (8-22), which has the worst record in the American League, lost its fourth in a row and for the eighth time in its last nine games.
Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, and Jose Valverde finished the ninth against his former team for his third save in as many chances.
"You've got to keep it close," Smyly said. "They had a chance to break it open right there, but we made some plays, made some pitches and kept it close. A one-run game in the ninth, anything can happen."
For Veras (0-2), it was his second blown save in four opportunities.
The Tigers, who claimed the series opener Thursday with a 7-3 victory in 14 innings, have won seven of their last eight games.
Astros right-hander Bud Norris struck out a season-high seven over as many innings, long enough for Houston hitters to figure out Detroit right-hander Doug Fister and make things interesting.
"I was very impressed with (Norris)," Leyland said. "That wasn't easy for us tonight. He pitched very, very well."
Norris allowed two runs on five hits. He walked three, but was otherwise effective in keeping the Astros within striking distance.
"We came out with the short end of the stick, but these guys fought hard for nine innings, and that's what we expect out of ourselves," Norris said. "It's a tough one to lose, but we played hard, and that's a positive for us."
Fister, who had won all four of his previous decisions, pitched six innings of shutout ball, but things unraveled for the Tigers right-hander in the seventh.
Matt Dominguez doubled on a line drive to left to lead off the bottom of the inning, and Rick Ankiel followed with a single to center that had Fister ducking and deflecting the ball with his glove.
Marvin Gonzalez reached on an error by second baseman Omar Infante, allowing Dominguez to score, and Ankiel scored the tying run on Robbie Grossman's RBI single to left.
That set the stage for Altuve, whose third hit of the night gave the Astros their short-lived lead.
For Astros manager Bo Porter, the rally was an encouraging sign.
"It was impressive because it wasn't the home run," Porter said. "It was quality at-bats."
Leyland was pleased with Fister's outing.
"He was good. Maybe not quite as sharp as he's been, but still good," Leyland said. "He kept us in the game and saved our bullpen."
Fister (4-0) was tagged for three runs, including two earned, on nine hits over six-plus innings. He struck out four while walking one. He was replaced by Smyly.
"That was a godsend that he gave us that many innings tonight," Leyland said.
Jhonny Peralta gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with an RBI single to left in the second inning.
Victor Martinez made it 2-0 Tigers with an RBI single to the right-field wall in the fourth.
Martinez thought he had a home run, but the play was reviewed by the umpiring crew, who upheld with the initial call.
"It hit the yellow pad," Leyland said when asked for the crew's explanation. "The umpires did everything that they are supposed to do."
As it turned out, so did Avila.
"When you are struggling and you do something to contribute, you feel pretty good," Avila said.
NOTES: C Jason Castro was Houston's designated hitter, a night after catching 14 innings in a 7-3 loss to the Tigers. Castro entered the game on a nine-game hitting streak, batting .389 with six doubles in the process. He went 0-for-5. . Houston relievers Dallas Keuchel and Wesley Wright were unavailable after pitching the night before. . CF Austin Jackson could have played, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave him the day off to rest his sore hamstrings. . Leyland said RHP Octavio Dotel, on the 5-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, is making progress and could go on a rehab stint soon.
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Who's Your Tiger?
They win ballgames (sometimes), they hit homers, they steal bases and they hug a lot. Say hello to your Detroit Tigers. We've collected some of our favorite photos from this season of the boys in blue and orange. Click through to pick your favorite player. Caption: Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, center, and Delmon Young, right, celebrate the Tigers' 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins in a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 in Minneapolis. Both Young and Cabrera homered in the game. At left is Prince Fielder.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland blows a bubble before the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Detroit, Tuesday, June 19, 2012.
Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers talks to members of the Boston Red Sox during the game on July 31, 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.
Anibal Sanchez #19 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning on August 13, 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Avisail Garcia #34 of the Detroit Tigers slides into third base with a bases loaded triple against the Minnesota Twins in the sixth inning at Comerica Park on May 26, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Doug Fister warms up against the Washington Nationals before the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Viera, Fla., Sunday, March 18, 2012.
Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer delivers a pitch in the first inning during a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Tuesday, May, 15, 2012.
Torii Hunter #48 of the Detroit Tigers looks on before the Opening Day game against the Minnesota Twins on April 1, 2013 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Tigers defeated the Twins 4-2.
Toronto Blue Jays' Colby Rasmus is forced out on second by Detroit Tigers' Omar Infante, who misses the double play during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in Toronto.
Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta celebrates a three run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during second inning of a baseball game in Toronto Sunday, July 29, 2012.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit leaves the dugout en route to the bullpen after finishing his pitching duties in the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Monday, March 5, 2012, in Lakeland, Fla.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello throws against the Seattle Mariners in the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Thursday, April 26, 2012.
Prince Fielder #28 of the Detroit Tigers waits to bat against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 14, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jose Valverde #46 of the Detroit Tigers reacts after beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2 at Comerica Park on April 10, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander acknowledges the crowd after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-0 in an interleague baseball game, Friday, May 18, 2012, in Detroit. Verlander threw a one-hitter.
Don Kelly #32 of the Detroit Tigers scores the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning during an MLB game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park on September 27, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers won 5-4.
Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila (13) tags Los Angeles Angels' Erick Aybar out at home plate in the third inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Monday, July 16, 2012.
Detroit Tigers' Andy Dirks dives into third base with a triple against the Minnesota Twins in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Detroit.
Detroit Tigers' Matt Tuiasosopo smiles in the dugout after hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. Detroit won 3-0.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke checks out Rocky, a 4-week-old Bengal tiger from the Dade City Wild Things Zoo, before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Friday, March 29, 2013 in Lakeland, Fla.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, right, watches relief pitcher Darin Downs throw during a baseball spring training workout Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, in Lakeland, Fla.
Victor Martinez #41 of the Detroit Tigers reacts to a called third strike during the first inning of the Opening Day game against the Minnesota Twins on April 1, 2013 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jose Ortega #56 of the Detroit Tigers pumps his fist after getting Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros to ground out to end the game at Comerica Park on May 13, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Astros 7-2.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello runs in the outfield before a baseball spring training exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Lakeland, Fla.
Detroit Tigers second baseman Ramon Santiago, top, and Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez watch after Santiago completed the double play on a Michael Cuddyer ground ball in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, June 16, 2012.
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Drew Smyly delivers in the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring training baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., Tuesday, March 12, 2013.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal stretches during a baseball spring training workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Lakeland, Fla.
Detroit Tigers third base coach Tom Brookens (61) greets Tigers Brayan Pena (55) after Pena's two-run, fifth-inning home run off Tigers reliever Jacob Diekman in their spring training baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The Tigers defeated the Phillies 10-6.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, left, first baseman Prince Fielder, center, and third baseman Miguel Cabrera, right, react after being presented with their All-Star jerseys before a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Detroit, Friday, July 6, 2012.
Luke Putkonen #36 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the 14th inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 2, 2013 in Houston, Texas.