Dallas Keuchal (5-2, 2.92) versus Hisashi Iwakuma (3-0, 1.76)
Another showing from the young, dynamic Astros team, instead of the mistake-ridden strikeout-kings that have been present for much of this road trip. That said, the Astros were not perfect defensively in a 4-1 win over the Mariners. Another dominant outing from a very impressive Dallas Keuchel, and more power from George Springer with some Marc Krauss insurance power, and the Astros draw level at 2-2 for the series. And for good measure, end Robbie Cano's 31 game hit streak.
On the Bump:
Well, I only need to talk about one guy here. Dallas Keuchel, who has recorded 80 out of a possible 81 outs in his last three starts, threw a 106-pitch complete game, yielding only 1 unearned run, allowing 4 base-runners on 4 hits (walking none), striking out 6, and keeping the ball on the ground (14:7). He recorded another solid game score (83), and drew 34 called or swinging strikes.
Keuchal retired the side in the first on three groundouts. In the second, after the Astros loaded the bases on three hits and a fielders choice (but didn't score), Keuchal returned the favour by allowing 3 base runners with two outs, leading to the lone unearned run. He started the second by striking Smoak out looking and Seager out swinging. Zunino then singled on a belt-high fastball, and Saunders hit a hard single to right. Cole Gillespie then hit a swinging bunt off the end of the bat which travelled 15ft down the 3B line that both Keuchal and Corporan (today's catcher) went for. Keuchal picked the ball up and tried to make an off-balance throw to first that skipped past Krauss into RF foul territory. One run scored (Zunino from second), and Saunders stopped at third, which was lucky for him because George Springer was backing up in right field, and he fired a perfect throw home. Brad Miller then grounded out to second for the third out.
Keuchel then allowed one baserunner / hit over the following 7 innings. That it was a one out single to Kyle Seager who was erased on a double play three pitches later. The most remarkable out was with one out in the ninth, when, on a hard hit ball up the middle, the ball caromed off Keuchel's foot and went straight to Jesus Guzman (defensive replacement for Marc Krauss) who caught it and stood on first for the out. On another day, it may have been a single - or even a double - but today, it was yet another groundout.
I was lucky enough to watch most of his pitching performance, and three things impressed on me. Firstly, he did not have his best command tonight, missing wide or up not infrequently, especially in the first three innings of the game. This is related to the second point - Keuchel cannot afford to live up in the zone - the worst pitch of the night was lined into LF by an off-balance Zunino. Had he been anticipating that pitch, it could have gone a long, long way. Thirdly, what impressed me the most is that when he was commanding his pitches (ie. when he delivered the ball with adequate balance and did not obviously miss), he lived nearly entirely on the margins of the lower-half of the strike zone. Nothing caught much of the zone - everything was on the black. The home plate ump had a tough night, as Keuchel was constantly asking questions on balls just off the plate.
And while we are talking about the ump, does Tom Hallion have the best punch out in the game?? He looks like he is delivering a left uppercut to the ribs, whilst yelling like a bear. I really wanted to see more strikes looking, just to see Hallion punch another one out. And he obliged on a couple of other punch outs - sadly, on Astros.
Very impressive overall performance, and the legend of Dallas Keuchal continues to grow.
At the Plate:
This was always going to be a tough match-up for the Astros, but they batted pretty well, eventually forcing Iwakuma to miss up in the zone where he was hammered enough for the Astros to score four runs. However, with 12 base runners (11 hits and 1 walk) the Astros could arguably have scored more runs, but four runs on two home runs was enough given how Keuchel pitched tonight.
The hits started in the second. Castro hit a lead-off single (on a low off-speed 3-2 pitch) to centre, followed by a Dominguez FC to third, which really should have been a double play (Cano had to catch the ball on the LF side of second, and struggled to transfer the ball to get the throw off to first). Krauss then singled just past a diving Cano into right, and Presley followed with a soft liner into right for another single. Corporan then rolled over on a 2-0 inside fastball to second for an inning-ending double-play, and the Astros first rally was extinguished.
Marwin Gonzalez singled to open the third, but was erased on a caught stealing, which was possibly a busted hit-and-run (the pitch was in the dirt, so Altuve did not swing). Fowler singled to open the fourth, but was erased on a Castro double-play. The side was retired in order in the fifth.
Then, in the sixth, the allure of a well-functioning Astros team became obvious. Gonzalez opened the inning with a 1-2 groundout. The AL hit leader Jose Altuve singled into right field, fisting a bloop in-on-the-hands over Robinson Cano's head. The next pitch, George hit a hard line drive down the right field line, just foul - it may have carried out, would have undoubtedly have driven in Altuve, as it hit high off the wall. On the following pitch, George fouled another off, and on the following pitch (a breaking ball in the dirt), Altuve feigned a steal. Zunino kept the ball in front of him, and Altuve returned to first.
On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Iwakuma hung a slider away, and Springer hit another loud line drive just over the LF fence. It got out in a hurry, and didn't have time to gain much in the way of altitude. An Astros fan in a green Cooperstown jersey just missed getting the ball as it clanged around the fence of the visiting bullpen for a while. This shot represented his third two-run home-run in two days, and added to an impressive .291/.371/.608 triple-slash for May.
Iwakuma managed to retire Fowler (on a long fly-ball out) and Castro to end the sixth, but more damage was done in the seventh. Matt Dominguez led off with a ground-rule double into the right-field corner, and Marc Krauss followed by driving a low 88-mph sinking fastball into the right-field stands, just over the wall. Bo Porter, after the game, called it an excellent piece of hitting, noting that the pitch was low, and required considerable adjustment to barrel it on Krauss' part.
In terms of the hitting, Springer (1-4, HR, R, 2RBI) and Marc Krauss (2-4, HR, R, 2RBI) supplied the power, and Jose Altuve (2-4, R) and Matt Dominguez (2-4, R) supplied the on-base-ed-ness. Alex Presley (1-3, BB) was also on-base twice. 11 overall hits, 1 BB, 7K.
Dallas Keuchal settled down after a rocky second inning, where it all threatened to turn to custard. He allowed one baserunner in the seven innings following the second, ensuring that the Astros would struggle to lose unless they were shut out. The turning point was, therefore, during a five-pitch third inning.
Player of the Day:
George and Marc can share PoTD, with their two-run homers off a tough ground balling righty.
Note should also be made that the Astros re-jigged their rotation to get an extra lefty SP up against the Mariners, who aren't as good against lefties. Excellent idea, and worth a mention.
Goat of the Game:
Good win = No Goat! Giving it to Dallas Keuchel (for his throwing error) seems unfair. An argument could also be made for Carlos Corporan (0-4), who possibly distracted Keuchel when he was making that throw, but again, unfair.
The Astros toddle off to Kansas City (24-25, 4-6 last 10) for the following matchup:
Scott Feldman (2-2, 3.02) versus Yordano Ventura (2-4, 2.80)
8:10 Eastern, 7:10 Central. Cockroach is back for the game recap.
Memorial Day means that the troops will be honoured with camo-uniforms.