Dallas Keuchal (8-5, 2.78) versus C.J. Wilson (8-6, 3.90 ERA)
Happy July 4th!! Especially for the home crowd. Houston rode a 5 run fourth inning to a tight 6-5 lead, which they lost in the seventh inning. They entered the bottom of the ninth tied at 6-6, then watched as Mike Trout golfed one deep into left-centre field for a walk off home run. Nothing too much wrong with the pitch, but the damage was done earlier in the game. Let's explore how that damage occurred.
On the Bump:
Dallas Keuchal made his first start in 12 days, after he missed a start with wrist inflammation that became an issue in his 'pen between starts. And he wasn't sharp. The Angels hitters weren't biting on the low stuff, his breaking ball lacked bite, and he wasn't managing to spot the corners on what appeared to be a relatively generous strike zone from controversial umpire Angel Hernandez. Keuchal left the game with the lead after his defence bailed him out a bunch of times.
Keuchal started the game by issuing a one-out walk to Mike Trout, then getting Albert Pujols on a groundout, with Trout going to second. Josh Hamilton hit a nubber down the third-base line, but the infield was shifted left, and all Matt Dominguez could do was put it in his pocket and ensure that Trout remained at second. With two outs, Howie Kendrick hit a grounder to fill-in shortshop, Kiké Hernandez, who (i) made a fantastic diving stop to keep the ball in the infield and (ii) threw Kendrick out at first - or would have had Singleton held on to the scoop (Singleton's scoop perhaps needs work). Then, with bases loaded and two outs, Kiké made his second fantastic play of the inning, ranging out into shallow centre-field on a bloop that threatened to drop and score two runs. He was the only guy who could make the play, and he did to get Keuchal out of the inning with no runs scored.
Keuchal conceded a run in the second on a soft line-drive single with one out, followed by a double and an RBI groundout. In the third, Pujols opened the inning with a sharp line-drive single to left, Hamilton singled to centre, then Kendrick singled to right to load the bases with no outs. Keuchal induced Aybar into a run-scoring double play (again, a fantastic diving stop and quick feed from Kiké at short), then David Freese doubled to left for the second run of the inning. The second strong defensive play of the inning occurred when Freese tried to score from second on a single to left, and L.J. Hoes delivered a slightly high throw on the full to Carlos Corporan at home, who tagged out Freese. Angels up, 3-1, Keuchal over sixty pitches already.
Keuchal came back out for the fourth with a 6-3 lead, and immediately gave a couple of runs back. Leadoff single to Ianetta, followed by a fielders' choice, then a strikeout of Trout, then a 1-0 fastball down the middle to Albert Pujols, and he knows what to do with them, especially when an Astro is on the mound. Two-run shot, 6-5 Houston.
Kuechal had runners on the corners in the fifth with one out, and induced another inning-ending double play, started again by Kiké Hernandez, who looked the goods at short. Kuechal's ugly line: 5IP, 13H, 5R/ER, BB, K. The 13 hits, and the one strikeout are not what we have come to expect from him in 2014. Josh Zeid then took over for the sixth, and retired the side in order for the first time in the game.
The things started to get little weird, and a little too familiar. Zeid came out to pitch to Pujols to start the seventh, and he flipped an outside fastball into right field for a single. Darin Downs relieved, and got Hamilton swinging on a 2-2 count. However, Pujols was off and running on first move - knowing Downs wouldn't throw over - and he managed to steal second (!), his fourth of the year. Josh Fields relieved to pitch to the righty Kendrick and, after having him at 0-2, allowed a double off the wall in RF on an elevated fastball away, scoring Pujols easily. Scores tied.
Fields then went change-up crazy, and proceeded to strike out the next four hitters he faced. His change looked sharp, and he threw very few curveballs - quite a different look. Sipp relieved him with two outs in the eighth, and got the lefty Calhoun on a grounder.
Sipp came out again for the ninth to face the righties Trout and Pujols as the first two hitters of the inning. He got to 0-2 on Trout (with the second strike being a generous Angel Hernandez call), then threw a breaking ball that was low, but in the middle of the plate, and Trout golfed it into left-centre for the walk off. Not a bad pitch, but I imagine that Sipp may have wanted it closer to Trout's back foot, and the movement from Corporan's glove behind the plate certainly indicated that.
At the Plate:
Chris Carter opened the scoring with one of his effortless flicks into the left-field bullpen off C.J. Wilson with one-out in the second. He had a good night: 2-4, HR, 2R, K, and the non-strikeout out that he made was a stung ground ball that could easily have found a hole.
The Astros were retired in order in the third, but exploded in the fourth for five runs without conceding an out. Kiké Hernandez flicked a 1-2 outside pitch into right field for a leadoff single. George Springer brought him in with a towering shot to CF for his seventeenth dinger of the season. Dominguez singled into right, Carter singled into centre, then Singleton pulled a three-run shot down the line to right on an elevated inside slider. Five runs, no outs.
Corporan then struck out looking, and argued with Angel Hernandez on his way back to the dugout. The TV feed then caught Bo chewing him out in the dugout - showing rare emotion - presumably for potentially shrinking Kuechal's zone a little. And I thought it did shrink for the next few batters in the fourth. Santana struck out, and Hoes grounded out to end the frame.
And that was all the scoring from the Astros. They threatened in the fifth after a one-out infield single from Kiké and a walk from Springer, but went in order until the seventh, when Kiké hit a two-out single and Springer walked. Nothing notable happened for the remainder of the game aside from Domingo Santana suffering the indignity of having Alex Presley pinch hit for him.
Albert Pujols cleanly stole second on a Josh Hamilton strikeout in the seventh with one out. (Hamilton's K was the first out of the inning). When Howie Kendrick hit a double as the next batter, Pujols was able to hobble home without a throw. No way he would have gone first to home had he not stolen the base.
Man of the Match:
A few days ago, I mused as to whether Kiké could handle short. I knew he could play second, third, and the corner-outfield spots. He has two starts in CF in his minor-league career. Can he play short?? Well, he emphatically answered that question today, making three stunning plays, including gunning down a runner from his knees (Singleton missed the scoop), ranging into centre on a fisted bloop, and starting a pair of double plays. He also looked good with the bat: 3-4, R. Great to have another line-drive-type contact hitter in a K-happy lineup, too. He has struck out 135 times in 1868 Minor League at bats.
Goat of the Game:
Domingo Santana has had a rough start to his ML career. He is probably going to strike out a bit, but I doubt his K-rate will remain at 80% for his career. Tonight: 0-3, 2K, with a couple of hard-hit balls to right (one foul). For his ML career: 0-10, 8K.
Saturday July 5 sees Scott Feldman (4-5, 3.92) square off against Hector Santiago (0-7, 4.08).
10:05 Eastern, 9:05 Central.
Hope y'all enjoyed your Fourth of July celebrations.