Scott Feldman (6-9, 4.45) versus "Pine Tar" Pineda (2-2, 1.82)
The Astros, at this stage of the season, are playing for a combination of pride and (for some) ongoing individual survival in the big leagues. I recently wrote about their tough upcoming schedule - running the gauntlet in the AL West, which this year looks like the strongest division in baseball. This has surprised some pundits, with many pre-season predictions focussing on the AL East. Rightly so, because 8 out of the last 19 champs have been either the Red Sox or the Yankees, with the AL East has contributing the AL representative in 11 of the last 19 World Series.
Regardless, in playing a storied franchise like the Yankees - who have been so dominant since the ’94 strike - the amount of pride to be gained if a team were to outplay them is not insignificant. With a win tonight, the Astros would win (i) the current series (ii) the season series and (iii) an away series, and win both tilts against the Yankees in 2014.
So it is with significant pride and not-insignificant amounts of joy that I report an Astros win, by a score of 5-2. How did it happen?? Lets go to the game recap…
On the Mound:
Scott Feldman was the recipient of the season opening win against the Yankees, and he also has a funky little streak of his own going (which includes the Opening Day start). Feldman has recorded four straight quality starts against New York, and a 2.30 ERA over that span. Tonight, he threw 121 pitches (a career high) while working around 10 baserunners just under 7 IP. His eventual line was a robust, keep-'em-in-the-game 6.2IP, 8H, 2R/ER, 2BB, 7K.
Feldman's work around baserunners was especially effective. In the first, he allowed two consecutive 1-out singles, and both runners completed a double-steal on a strikeout that constituted the second out of the inning. In the second, Feldman was again faced with runners on second and third with two outs after he walked Stephen Drew with one out, and allowed a double to Ichiro Suzuki with two outs. No runners scored in either of these innings, partly thanks to Gonzalez's excellent defensive play on the run to end the second and nail the speedy Brett Gardner.
Feldman managed the next five outs until Stephen Drew (with two outs in the bottom of the fourth) mashed a home run to RF the very pitch after Chase Headley was caught stealing second base (the second CS when Feldman was pitching this year). The home run to Drew was on an 86mph fastball that may have cut a little - Castro asked for it down and away and Feldman missed up and glove-side - and Drew put a charge into it, clearing the wall in the RF power alley without difficulty.
In the fifth, Feldman allowed a lead-off single to Ichiro, who watched as Brett Gardner fouled out, then stole second and went to third on Derek Jeter’s grounder to third. Then, with two outs, Jacoby Ellsbury laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line. Feldman was quick off the mound for a big guy, but Ichiro was also quick down the third base line, and Ellsbury was quick out of the box, and no play was possible despite Feldman throwing home late. Ichiro scored standing up and the Yankees took the lead by a score of 2-1 while playing a bit of small-ball.
Feldman rebounded to retire the side in order in the sixth on a groundout and two strikeouts. In the seventh, he recorded the first two outs before walking Brett Gardner on a full count, and allowing a single to Derek Jeter on a 2-2 count. Kevin Chapman relieved with runners on first and second, promptly allowed a passed ball that moved the runners up 90 feet, but he recorded three straight strikes on Jacoby Ellsbury (including a slider down the middle of the plate that was foul tipped for the third strike) to earn the final out of the inning.
At this time, the Astros were leading 5-2, so they were keen to shut the Yankees down. Fields allowed only a 2-out single in the eighth, and Jose Veras came on for the save. He hasn’t been as sharp this year as he was last year, and his first save of the year was… er… interesting. He got the first two outs without too much difficulty (although the line-out to short by Ichiro could easily have found a hole), but then Brett Gardner singled and Derek Jeter walked to send the tying run to the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury had a lash at the short porch in right on a pitch that caught too much of the plate, but he came up just short of the warning track, and the final out of the game was recorded.
At the Plate:
Bo again led off with Robbie Grossman, who now has his OBP up to .337 (as at the conclusion of this game). Grossman’s second at-bat also marked the first Astros baserunner. Grossman (2-5, 2RBI) singled to right to lead off the inning, and went to second on an Altuve (1-4) sac-bunt. Grossman then got to watch as Carter (0-4, 3K) struck out on three straight whiffs, but he scored with Dexter Fowler (1-4), with two outs, lashed a low slider doubled down the RF line which bounced high off the wall for the first run of the game. Fowler went into second standing up, then Castro (0-3, BB) grounded out to end the frame.
In the fifth, the Astros recorded two-out singles to Matt Dominguez and Jake Marisnick (both 2-4, R, and Marisnick added an RBI). A Grossman groundout ended that rally. In the sixth, Michael Pineda retired the 2 to 4 hitters in order. Pineda came out of the seventh inning, but he walked Jason Castro in an 8-pitch battle, and his night was done. He left the game with a 2-1 lead.
David Huff relieved, and he got Jon Singleton (0-3, BB) to strike out. Marwin Gonzalez - batting righty - then eased a 2-1 pitch into left, sending Jason Castro to second, and prompting Joe Giradi to lift the lefty Huff, and bring Esmil Rogers in from the ‘pen.
The Astros were aggressive against Rogers, recording 4 base-hits in the next 6 pitches. Matt Dominguez started the roll by lining the first pitch he saw to CF. The runners were only able to move up one base, so this meant that the bases were loaded with one out. Jake Marisnick then found himself down 0-2 before went down and got a low-and-away breaking pitch, and lined it over the third baseman into LF, scoring Castro and tying the score at 2-apiece. The very next pitch, Robbie Grossman lined a 2-RBI single to CF on an elevated cutter over the middle of the plate and the runners scored as Ellsbury ranged over into the RF gap. With runners on the corners, Jose Altuve singled on the first pitch he saw, driving in Jake Marisnick from third and scoring the fourth run of the inning. Each of the RBI singles were recorded over the course of three consecutive pitches. Chris Carter looked at a ball, then struck out on a 2-2 pitch, and Dexter Fowler also K’d on four pitches to end the frame, stranding the runners on first and second.
A Singleton walk with one out in the eighth was the only other Astros baserunner. Esmil Rogers managed better luck in the eighth to record a scoreless frame, and Chase Whitley managed an uneventful ninth. But the damage was already done, as the Astros ‘pen was in the process of suffocating the Yankees bats.
A six pitch sequence proved to be the turning point of the game, as the Astros attacked Esmil Rogers early in the count. With runners on first and second, Dominguez singled on the first pitch of his at bat. Down 0-2, Marisnick singled to drive in the first run and leave the bases loaded. Grossman hit a 2-RBI line drive on the following pitch, and Altuve dumped the first pitch he saw just short of Ellsbury in CF for another RBI.
Man of the Match:
Some solid performances tonight, with my pick being Robbie Grossman with a vital hit in the seventh inning to push the Astros to a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Dominguez and Marisnick with 2-4, with each of their hits setting up the four-run seventh inning. On the pitching side, Scott Feldman battled bravely to record a solid outing. Marwin Gonzalez quietly went 1-4 whilst managing some solid defensive plays.
Goat of the Game:
Whomever kidnapped Chris Carter and replaced him with an otherworldly robot during his hot streak, only to decide that the original Chris Carter is better, please stop playing with out sensibilities. Carter didn't manage to redeem himself tonight with an 0-4, 3K night, and was the only Astro who didn't get to run the bases.
The Astros send Dallas Keuchel to the mound to pursue a sweep, and continue to seriously dent the Yankees' playoff hopes.
Dallas Keuchel (10-8, 3.11) versus Brandon McCarthy (7-12, 4.24, but a much better 4-2, 2.30 as a Yankee)
1 Eastern, noon Central