CJ Wilson (1-1, 3.95) v Dallas Keuchel (1-0, 1.29)
A happy crowd of just over 28,000 got to watch the Astros and Angels resolve a pitching duel via the long ball earlier this evening at MMP. And for once, Mike Trout was not involved. Wilson and Keuchel were economical in giving up hits, and the Astros managed to flick two home runs into the Crawford Boxes to even the series, and win 4-0. Well played ballgame, taking only 2h 45m (by my reckoning) to complete.
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel continued his solid start to the season, throwing six scoreless frames of 2-hit, three-walk ball. Only one baserunner made it to third base. Keuchel also struck out seven in a solid overall effort, including Mike Trout with two on to end the fifth, and Albert Pujols twice.
David Freese led off the second inning with a single off the padding that justs out down the RF line. Springer was in great position to keep it to a single, but he misplayed it for an error and Freese took second with no outs. He advanced to third on a groundout, but Keuchel cleaned up the inning with a strikeout, a walk and a groundout back to the mound.
The next Angels baserunner was C.J. Cron, who doubled with two outs in the fourth. But Jonathan Villar - getting the start at third - made two nice plays on the Aybar at-bat. The first nice play was to let a slow roller down the third base line go foul, and the second was to tag Cron out later in the at-bat, after Aybar grounded out softly, inside the 3B chalk. Aybar's at-bat was vital in the context of the game - he and Keuchel battled for 8 pitches, and a number of the foul balls were hit hard, including one just foul down the LF line with home-run distance.
After getting two quick outs to open the fifth frame, Keuchel then walked Johnny Giavotella on a full count. Giovatella took second on a wild pitch with Kole Calhoun batting, which brought Mike Trout to the plate in a tie game. Keuchel, however, worked Trout over, quickly getting to two strikes, then striking him out on the fifth pitch of the at-bat to end the frame.
After an uneventful sixth for Keuchel, Chad Qualls started the seventh against the 6-7-8 hitters, and retired them in order. Pat Neshek opened pitched the eighth, and was in trouble immediately, allowing a long double off the fence in front of the visiting 'pen to the first batter he faced, Johnny Giavotella. However, the baserunner was not able to advance any further in the frame, after Neshek retired the top of the order on two fly outs, and a Mike Trout strikeout on a high slider.
Luke Gregerson set the Angels down in order in the ninth to complete the shutout. Gregerson struck out the first two batters of the frame, which ran the strikeout total to 13 for the night (against 3 hits and 3 walks).
It is worthwhile pointing out the Keuchel's ERA sits at 0.90, and he has allowed a single run in three starts this year. Gregerson is also yet to give up any runs after another scoreless appearance.
At the Plate:
Facing the lefty Wilson, the Astros started with Robbie Grossman in left Honk Conger (0-2, BB) catching, and Jonathan Villar at third. Springer batted three, yielding his two-spot to Grossman, and Lowrie batted between Gattis and Carter, in the fifth spot in the lineup.
The Astros managed three walks in the first two innings, and added a further walk in the fourth frame. Carter worked two of those walks (0-2, 2BB), and he advanced to second base on the throwing error in the second frame. The best at-bat through four innings was probably Jonathan Villar's at-bat with two outs in the fourth frame and with Carter on first. Villar hit the ball hard, twice, just foul down the LF line. One foul ball was a hard liner into the corner that was a sure double, and the second was a fly ball just foul, with enough distance to get into the Crawford Boxes. Villar was retired swinging at a high strike to end that frame, sadly.
The first hit of the night for the Astros was recorded in the fifth frame, when Jose Altuve hit a hard single to shortstop with two outs. The first scoring play of the game was George Springer's lead-off home run off the Community Leaders signs above the Crawford Boxes - not too far from where I was sitting. Springer took a 1-1 fastball down and in, and turned on it. Wilson missed a little inside and up, and Springer (1-3, HR) made no mistake for his first home run of the year.
But the big inning for the Astros was in the seventh. Wilson retired Jonathan Villar (0-3) on a fly ball to CF, and Hank Conger on a strikeout. Then Marisnick (1-3) reached on a hard-hit grounder through the 5.5 hole. With Altuve at the plate, and with two outs, Mike Scioscia relieved with righty Mike Morin. And when Marisnick stole second on the first pitch of the at-bat (which was a strike), Scioscia made the curious decision to intentionally walk Altuve (1-3, BB) to get to Grossman. I guess I can understand the logic - if Altuve records a hit to the outfield, then Marisnick scores. And having Altuve on first sets up a force at every non-home plate base. But Altuve records a lot of hits that never make it to the outfield, and Marisnick would not score on an infield hit. So I remain a little surprised.
Anyhow, that brought Mike-Bob Grossman up with runners on first and second, facing a right hander for the first time in the game. And on the second pitch of the at-bat, he took a high fastball, and dropped it three rows back into the Crawford Boxes. The ball made it with distance to spare. Grossman (1-3, HR) knew it straight away. The crowd went nuts - as did twitter. And as the Constable tweeted, Grossman's shot represented only the second time the Astros scored 3+ runs in an inning this year.
The Astros went quietly in the eighth inning, and never got to bat in the ninth. I feel cheated, dammit!
George Springer atoned for his first inning error by mashing a long home run on a pitch missed slightly inside for his first long ball of the season. That broke the scoreless tie, and opened Springer's 2015 home-run account.
Man of the Match:
Bob Grossman, for all your insurance and home-run needs. And if the opposition pitchers want to walk Jose Altuve to get to fearsome masher Bob Grossman, then best of luck to them!
Goat of the Game:
I thought about awarding Springer this, but he homered, so it wouldn't be fair. Gattis went 0-4, but he hit some fly balls very hard. One of them nearly touched the room, then landed just behind the pitchers' mound. Jed Lowrie also went 0-4, but he also strung together some good at bats.
So no goat today.
Day game tomorrow... TBA - most likely Garret Richards, in his return from knee surgery - versus Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.17).
2 Eastern, 1 Central.
That will conclude the home stand, and the Astros will fly to Seattle for a series against the Mariners.