Dallas Keuchel (8-5, 3.06) versus Yu Darvish (8-4, 2.63)
How sweep it must be for the Astros, as they take the third game of the series against the only uninjured Rangers pitcher (and undisputed ace) Yu Darvish. Coming to this game, Darvish was riding a 20-inning home scoreless streak, and a three won home winning streak. He may have been nursing a headache, and could also have been the victim of voodoo, because I understand that the Constable is in Haiti at the moment, learning the art of.
Regardless, the Astros faced their most significant challenge of the series. The Astros starter, Dallas Keuchel was to have a rough start, but the Astros offence prevailed, eventually running out 8-4 winners. In doing so, the 39-54 Astros relegated the 38-53 Rangers to the basement of the AL West (albeit on percentage points only), extended the Rangers' hold on the worst run differential in the league (they currently sit at -90 compared to the Astros' -73), and extended the Rangers' losing streak to four games, including a 1-9 record in their last 10. Things don't get any easier for the Rangers, either, as the hot-hitting Angels (+71 run differential, 8-2 in their last 10) roll into town.
On the Bump:
Houston sent it's nominal ace to the mound, although there is little debate as to the fact that Keuchel has gone off the boil in July. He volunteered that he has been struggling with his command, and I think it is accepted that whilst he has good "stuff", he is pretty marginal in terms of velocity. Regardless, he wasn't great early in this one, but rallied to pitch into the seventh, by which time Houston had scored enough runs to credit him with the win.
Kuechal opened the game strongly enough, with a groundout and strikeout. Alex Rios then doubled to left (grounder down the LF line), and Beltre drove him in by singling to right on a low fastball that was supposed to be away, but missed over the plate. The throw was cut, and Beltre was caught in an innning-ending rundown between first and second, but by the time he was tagged, Rios had scored.
Keuchel ran into more trouble in the second. A leadoff single (line drive into left), another single (grounder through the hole on the right side), then a walk (on a full count), and the bases were loaded with no outs. A grounder to third allowed for a force play at home, but Daniel Robertson hit a hard grounder on an 0-1 pitch that may have missed slightly up (but was right on the corner) under the glove of a drawn in Dominguez for a two-run double. Choo followed with a sac-fly to LF (Kiké Hernandez made a great running catch, but his off-balance throw was up the first-base line) and the Rangers took a 4-1 lead.
Keuchel was nails after that. He allowed a two-out single in the third, a one out single and double play in the fourth, and a one out single in the sixth. The first batter of the seventh reached on catchers interference, and Bo left Keuchal in to (1) record a very pretty GB out on Daniel Robertson (and nice scoop from Singles) and (2) face the lefty Choo later in the inning. Veras was summonsed from the 'pen to get the last out of the seventh, and he successfully retired Elvis Andrus to end the frame. Keuchel's line: 6.2IP, 8H, 4R/ER, BB, 3K, 109 pitches.
At this stage, the Astros needed to defend a four-run lead, and they did so despite allowing a few base runners. With one out in the eighth, Beltre reached on an infield single to Dominguez (who was unable to make the barehand play). Dominguez then made an error on a grounder to allow the next batter to reach. However, Veras bore down and struck out Gimenez, and enticed Odor into a groundout to end the frame.
In the ninth, Qualls recorded a couple of quick outs on grounders, then allowed singles to Choo and Andrus to put runners on first and second. He struck out Rios on a low sinker to end the game with the game-tying run in Beltre on deck.
Obviously, the outstanding defensive play was the running catch by George Springer on an Alex Rios fly ball to straightaway centre leading off the third. Rios mashed a fly ball to centre that Springer got a good jump on, running back and to his right. Springer was forced to run straight toward the wall, and took his eyes off the ball just prior to making contact with the wall. He and caught the ball and hit the wall simultaneously, and the catch was made even more impressive as the ball was slicing behind him, with the catch needing to be made slightly behind his head. And I reiterate - he wasn't looking at the ball when he made the catch. Worth a look if you can. Springer also made another good running catch to finish the frame.
At the Plate:
Impressive night for the offence, which managed to touch Yu Darvish up for 6R in 6IP. Darvish allowed only a double to Robbie Grossman (who ended his 0-28 ML skid) to left-centre. In the second, Corp hit a two-out double (a golf-shot that flew to the wall in right, near the pole), and on the following pitch Kiké Hernandez hit a hit fly-ball to left on a fastball that missed high and over the plate. Shin-Soo Choo in LF never got a read on it - he initially started in, then went back to the wall, circled a bit, then flailed helplessly as the ball hit the base of the wall 2 yards behind him. The final upshot of it all was that Corp scored easily, and Hernandez was left standing on third. Hernandez scored on Darvish's wild pitch which got away from Gimenez during the next at-bat.
In the third, Altuve led off with a double into the right-centre gap which landed at the base of the wall, and Grossman (yes, Robbie Grossman) singled him in with a line shot over ye shortestop. Grossman advanced to second on a throwing error - really, it was an awful catching attempt that was the problem, not the throw - and the ball was only stopped from going into the Rangers dugout by a sprawling Gimenez. Springer then reached on an infield single, beating Darvish to the bag on a grounder to first, which put runners on the corners with no outs. Singleton struck out on a curve off the plate, and Dominguez GIDP to end the frame.
Darvish then settled down, and struck out the side in the fourth. In the fifth, he hung a 1-2 81mph slider to Robbie Grossman (that name again), who made no mistake lining it out down the right field line, about 2 yards fair. Bo Porter's delight was obvious as Grossman approached the dugout after touching home.
Darvish then allowed a leadoff single to Jon Singleton, who advanced to second on Chris Carter's one-out single through the shift. Carlos Corporan was the next batter, and on a 1-2 fastball away, Corp hit a fly ball down the left field line. The ball evaded a sliding Shin-Soo Choo, landed on the chalk, and rattled around in the corner long enough for Carter to score from first. Astros 6, Rangers 4, but Darvish was to finish the inning uneventfully.
In the seventh, Jason Frasor relieved, and allowed Robbie Grossman (!) to reach with one out. Springer was up next, and on a 2-1 count, he took a low 93mph fastball that missed over the plate, and deposited it into the first row of the stands just to the right of the Rangers' 'pen. Astros 8, Rangers 4.
Carter hit a leadoff single in the eighth off Neal Cotts, advanced to second on a balk, then Hernandez drew a one-out walk. MarGo then GIDP to end the threat. In the ninth, the Astros went in order, and the Rangers finally managed to retire the legendary Robbie Grossman on a strikeout.
The key offensive performers were Robbie Grossman, George Springer (2-4, HR, R, 2RBI), Chris Carter (2-4, R), Carlos Corporan (2-4, 2x2B, R, 2RBI) and Kiké Hernandez (1-3, BB, 3B, R, RBI). Jose Altuve went 1-for-5 with a double and Singleton went 1-for-4 with a run scored and three strikeouts.
With the game tied 4-4 in the sixth and runners on first and second, Carlos Corporan fought off a fastball away which landed on the left field line, and just out of the reach of a sliding Shin-Soo Choo. The ball got behind Choo, which is just as well, because Chris Carter was on first and had been holding by virtue of the fact that there was only one out in the frame. Anyhow, the ball bounced around in the corner long enough for Singleton and Carter to get on their collective horses, and cross home plate for the two go-ahead runs, giving the Astros a lead which they would not relinquish.
Turning Point II:
Leading off the third, after hanging three runs on Keuchel in the second (and four in the game), Alex Rios mashed a shot to dead centre. Springer's catch is described above, and additional note is made that it was a clutch play in terms of run prevention.
Man of the Match:
After his near-goat yesterday, Mike-Bob came to the park with some added motivation. And he had a great night: 4-5, 2B, HR, 2R, 2RBI to emphatically end his 0-28 skid, and remind us of the guy we saw in AAA this year, and in the Majors in late 2013. His hits came on the following counts: 2-2, 2-0, 1-2 and 2-2, so it's not like he was just throwing the bat at the first pitch that came along. Nod-of-the-head in the direction of George Springer, who continues to astound with his enthusiasm, power and athleticism.
Goat of the Game:
Half-Goaties to Matt Dominguez and Marwin Gonzalez - each 0-4, GIDP. Matty D also made an error, so perhaps he gets 55% of the Goatie, and Marwin gets 45%. Or something.
After a typically bipolar road-trip, the 'Stros have tomorrow off, then head home to Houston for a three-game set against the Evil Empire II, aka the Boston Red Sox. The proposed matchup is Scott Feldman (4-5, 3.86) versus the resurgent John Lackey (9-6, 3.84).
8 Eastern, 7 Central, Fireworks afterward. But tomorrow off.