Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G145: Astros at Mariners

The Astros' last journey for the year up through the Pacific Northwest took a turn for the better in a very tightly played game against a contending Mariners team.  It is no surprise that these games are low-scoring because (i) the Mariners have, by some measures, the best pitching staff in the majors and (ii) the Astros have totally forgotten how to hit.  However, in G145, the Astros scraped together enough runs for a tight win, and Collin McHugh was close to perfect.  That there (as Bo would say) resulted in a 2-1 win over the Mariners.

On the Mound:
The story here was McHugh, who had a memorable start in Seattle the last time he was up this way.  He now has two starts in Seattle, has given up one run in those starts, and has struck out 16 in doing so.  However, after that April start where he dominated the Mariners at home, he gave up five runs in each of the two subsequent outings against them, which probably meant that they had worked something out about how to face him.

But not tonight, as McHugh busted out a cut fastball to compliment his slider and curveball.  This is not apparently a pitch that he has thrown much (according to the radio guys), and the Mariners acted like they hadn't seen it before.

Whatever the reason, the results were great, as McHugh took a 1-hit shutout into the eighth before giving up his second hit - a long home run to right off the bat of Logan Morrison - who tied the game with one massive swing.  The offending pitch was a 1-0 fastball that he missed glove side and up - Castro was set up down and away, so the pitch caught the middle of the plate.  The next thing the ball hit was the fa├žade between the lower and upper deck in the RF stand, and the game was tied.

Interestingly, the pitch prior to that was called a ball - it was a curveball down and it, and I cannot believe the ump called it a ball.  But who cares, it probably didn't change anything.

Anyhow, prior to that, McHugh was filthy.  He retired the side in order in the first, second, third, sixth and seventh.  He faced the minimum in the fourth after Austin Jackson reached on an infield single, but was erased on a great double-play when Endy Chavez bounced one up the middle.  Jackson had taken off the steal second, but Villar was standing on the bag when he fielded the ball, and he completed the 6-unassisted-3 double play.

In the fifth inning, Jose Altuve allowed Kendrys Morales to reach on a 1-out error, but he advanced no further than first.  And Morrison was the only other baserunner.  McHugh's final line: 8IP, 2H, 1R/ER, 4K on 100 pitches.  His ERA now sits at 2.79.  He is 5-0, 1.69 over his last 8 starts.  Looks more and more like the real deal to me, which is just an absolute steal off waivers.

After the Astros took the lead back in the top half of the ninth, Tom Lawless shoulder-tapped Josh Fields for the save.  And Fields was fantastic, enticing Brad Miller into a long flyout to CF, striking Austin Jackson out on a 1-2 change up (Jackson, as a righty, was probably looking for the curve as the primary off-speed pitch), and getting Endy Chavez to ground out on the first pitch.

I mentioned yesterday that Lawless had used all three lefties in the 'pen in Game 1 of this series.  They head into Game 3 on a days rest, thanks to Collin McHugh.

At the Plate:
The Astros had a quiet start to the night, going in order in the first.  In the second, Jason Castro (1-3, BB) walked with one out, Singleton (2-3, BB, 2B, RBI) advanced him to second with two outs, but Matty D (1-4) grounded out to end the threat.  In the third, Jonathan Villar (2-4, 2B) led off with a double to left field that literally collected Kyle Seager at third base on the way through.  Grossman's (1-5, 3K) grounder couldn't advance Villar, and when Altuve (0-4, second hitless night in a row) got him over to third on a grounder for the second out, that wasn't enough as Fowler (0-4, 2K) struck out.

In the fourth, the Astros scored their first run.  Chris Carter (1-3, BB) singled to left, Castro struck out looking, and Marisnick (batting behind Castro in the 6-spot) grounded into a force at second.  When Singleton drilled a flat 1-1 line drive to right, it was just as well that Marisnick (0-4) - not Carter - was running the bases.  Singleton's crushed line drive was literally inches of being a home run, hitting the very top of the wall, but bouncing back into play.  Michael Saunders' bobble allowed Marisnick to score, and Singles when to third on the throw.  But Matty D popped out.

Grossman singled to start the fifth, but also made the third out of the inning when he was picked off first (officially, it was a caught stealing, but he was totally picked off).  Carter walked with one out in the sixth, Castro sent him to second with a single, but Marisnick and Singleton went in order to end the frame.

The next baserunner that the Astros had was in the top of the ninth.  Joe Beimel opened the frame for Seattle, and he got Castro to ground out.  Yoervis Medina relieved, and he promptly struck out Jake Marisnick for the second out.  However, Jon Singleton worked a walk (with some close pitches being called balls), and went to second on a wild pitch three pitches into the next at-bat.  Matt Dominguez was the aforementioned next hitter, and he reached on a crucial infield single off the very end of the bat into the 5.5 hole.  Brad Miller fielded the ball, so Singleton had to stop at third (and Endy Chavez in left was playing really shallow anyhow), but that brought up Jonathan Villar with runners on the corners.  A hard grounder up the middle on a 1-1 pitch skipped over the glove of a diving Robbie Cano, Singleton scored, and the Astros had managed enough runs to win the game for McHugh.

Turning Point(s):
Note is made of three excellent defensive plays made by Jonathan Villar.  The double-play in the fourth (described above) was the first.  In the sixth, Villar ranged to his right on a grounder, made a sliding stop, and fired a strike to first to get Austin Jackson by a quarter-step or so.  In the eighth, Villar was shaded toward second base against Michael Saunders when Saunders hit a hard grounder up the middle.  Villar ranged far to his left, made a sprawling stop, and fired a low throw to Singleton, who made a great scoop for the out.  Villar has some serious tools - that much is obvious.

Man of the Match:
Three of them tonight.  Collin McHugh was dominant, and allowed only 2 hits.  The bad news is that one of them was a home run, but McHugh still walked off with the win when the Astros scored one in the top of the ninth for him.

And driving in the winning RBI, plus doubling, plus making three great defensive plays, was Jonathan Villar.  He desperately needed a game like this.  He has all the talent in the world, and he could have a solid major-league career if things pan out.  And games like this should give him confidence.

Jon Singleton also desperately needed a good game, and he was excellent on both sides of the ball tonight.  He narrowly missed a home run, worked a crucial walk, and made some solid defensive plays.  He has really improved his defence in the last month or so, and his scoop of Villar's throw in the eighth was awesome.

Goat of the Game:
Man, Dexter Fowler is struggling.  He needs to heat up.  But the goat is Jose Altuve, for his 0-4 night with an error.  Baseball is very much a "what have you done for me lately??" kind of game, and Altuve has not been good lately.  And by lately, I mean the last two games.  Snap out of it, Shorty.

Up Next:
Can't wait for Nick Tropeano to make his debut tomorrow.

NiTro versus Hisashi Iwakuma (14-6, 2.97)

10 Eastern, 9 Central.

After the game, the Astros get on a plane about midnight to fly to LA to face the Angels.