Dallas Keuchel (2-0, 0.90) versus Scott Kazmir (2-0, 1.33)
The Astros opened their series in Oakland with a wild, extra-inning 5-4 win. A total of zero runs were scored in regulation, but once it got to extras, light rain rolled in, and absolutely everyone whose job it was to throw the ball struggled. With the pitchers and fielders at a disadvantage, the batters pounced, and when the dust settled, the Astros finished one run up after 11. The tying Oakland run was left posted a second base. Chad Qualls atoned for his sins of 2014, securing a one-out save in a crazy 11th inning.
This leaves the Astros with a solid 9-7 record after around 10% of the season, and a 1.5 game lead over the Angels, who took a close game from the Rangers. And interesting news out of the AL West today - when the Rangers leave Anaheim at the end of the series, it is possible that they will take the Angels' injured RF with them, and not have to pay much in terms of his exorbitant salary for the next three years.
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel. Oh mercy! He was solid today, throwing nine innings of shut-out ball, needing 106 pitches to do so. He was economical with baserunners (two walks, two hits) while striking out 4. He continued to keep the ball on the ground, recording 16 outs via worm-burning versus 8 outs in the air.
Keuchel was only really in trouble in the third inning. He allowed a lead off single on a soft line-drive to RF to Craig Gentry, who was sacrificed to second by lefty Eric Sogard. Marcus Semien then singled on a hard ground ball to right, and Gentry was only able to advance as far as third base, respecting Springer's arm. Rule 5 pick Mark Canha walked to load the bases with one out, then ex-Stro Ben Zobrist grounded into a perfect double play to second base, and the game remained scoreless.
And Canha was the last baserunner that Keuchel allowed, as he set down the remaining 18 batters in order. A couple of hard-hit fly-outs late in the game were a little scary. But he was everything you want from an ace tonight - including being economical with his pitches. When the Astros scored the first runs of the game in the top of the 10th, Keuchel was in line for the win.
Not to be, however, as the misty-rain-stuff rolled in from the bay. Steve Sparks commented that it looked like London, England, such was the visibility. Everyone throwing the ball had trouble - both fielders and pitchers alike - and the rest of the game was a tad messy.
Luke Gregerson took the mound for the tenth and the save, and he struggled. All batters managed to work fairly deep counts - of the outs, the minimum number of pitches faced was four. Butler started the inning by grounding out to third, then Sam Fuld flicked one into shallow right for a single - off the glove of Carter. Brett Lowrie then struck out swinging - a good matchup for Gregerson given how Lowrie seems to struggle with breaking balls. Stephen Vogt then reached on an infield single to second - Altuve was unable to get the ball to Carter fast enough for the out because his underhand throw kind of looped - and that brought Josh Reddick to the plate. Play probably should have been made.
Reddick crushed an elevated cut fastball into the CF - LF gap, and that scored both runners . A hopeful throw to the plate - an attempt to nab Vogt - was up the first base line and squirted away from Hank Conger, and Reddick kept running, eventually making the decision to try for home. Thankfully, Gregerson was backing up, and he retrieved the ball that Conger missed, and returned it to him in time to get Josh Reddick for the inning-ending play at the plate. With a wet ball, and everyone having trouble getting a handle on it, it wasn't the worst decision in the world to send Reddick from third, especially because if anything more had gone wrong, the game would have been over.
Pat Neshek had a rough outing, but he also seemed to have difficulty gripping the by-now-wet baseball. He opened the frame with a three run lead, but Eric Sogard reached on a blooped single to RF, the Marcus Semien drove the seventh pitch of the at-bat out into left field. It landed around 15 feet fair, for a two run shot. Neshek elevated a fastball, which tailed over the inside of the plate and didn't sink. And just like that, Neshek had squandered 2 of the 3 runs that he had going into the frame.
Ike Davis then singled, putting the winning run on base - and Astros fans would have felt a familiar sensation to what they have been feeling when the 'pen came on with a narrow lead in 2012, 2013 and 2014. To make matters worse, Davis then took second on a wild pitch before an out was recorded
But the rest of the game was all Astros. Ben Zobrist popped out to second for the first out, and Country Breakfast flew out to right for the second out. Tony Sipp relieved to face the lefty Sam Fuld, and he walked him after having him at a 1-2 count early in the at-bat. Chad Qualls then relieved, and he gave up a deep fly ball to CF that Colby Rasmus caught just in front of the warning track. It looked scary, but wasn't quite deep enough, and the game was over.
At the Plate:
Scott Kazmir wasn't quite as sharp as Dallas Keuchel. The Astros went in order in the first, but in the second, they managed to get two runners on with two outs by way of an Evan Gattis single and a Colby Rasmus walk. Conger grounded out to end the frame. In the third, Jose Altuve singled on a grounder through the 5.5 hole with one out, but he didn't advance at all before the frame ended. Lowrie (1-5, BB) singled in the fourth, and Conger singled in the fifth, both to RF. Altuve walked in the fifth to join Conger on the base paths, but little more happened in that frame. In the eighth, Evan Gattis (2-4) singled on a hard grounder up the middle, and was replaced on the base paths by Marwin Gonzalez, who managed to get himself caught in a run down prior to the end of the frame. Carter singled to left to lead off the ninth, but he wasn't able to advance at all.
Good stuff happened in extras. Dan Ottero opened the frame with a strikeout of Luis Valbuena. Dude has cooled off considerably lately. Then Springer mashed a double on a pitch down-and-away into RF, and Lowrie was walked intentionally right behind him. That brought up Marwin Gonzalez (1-1, 2B) - who had pinch run for Gattis, and on a 2-2 count he drove an elevated fastball away into the CF-LF gap for a 2-run double. When the throw to the plate was cut off, Gonzalez was caught between second and third, and he made an out on the base paths for the second time of the night, despite only playing a few innings of the game.
In the eleventh, and having just blown the lead, Chris Carter (1-4, BB) worked a leadoff walk. Colby Rasmus (0-3, 2BB) followed with a walk, and Hank Conger (1-3, BB) sacrificed the runners over one base. Robbie Grossman (1-5) then came up with his second big hit in a week, with a hard single through the left side of the drawn-in infield for a 2-RBI knock. He advanced to second on the play - the throw was again up the first base line and squirted away from the catcher - which was vital in the context of the game because another run was eventually able to score. Jose Altuve (2-4, 2BB) was intentionally walked with first base open to set up the double play, Luis Valbuena popped out to third - on a great play by Brett Lowrie - for the second out, then George Springer (2-6, 2B) came through with a line drive to left field to score Grossman. That left the Astros up three heading into the bottom of the 11th.
Springer, scoring Grossman - which wound up being the winning run - in the 11th. Recall that the Astros ended the 10th with two runs in, trying to advance another base. Well, the Springer hit was vital, especially after the error that allowed Grossman to advance to second base, because Neshek was to allow two runs and put the game-tying run on second before an out was recorded.
Man of the Match:
The defence. Lowrie, Valbuena and Springer all made really solid defensive plays. Lowrie made a great grab up the middle on one play, and Valbeuna made a stunning barehanded play to his left as well. Springer caught a ball on the warning track that was well over his head - he runs back very well as Tony Sipp can confirm. Numerous other good defensive plays were made, but it all went a bit south late in the game with the slippery ball and infield. Both Carter and Altuve missed plays that would have helped end the game after 10 innings, but the defence still got the Astros to the point where they were able to win the game.
Goat of the Game:
Valbuena, after just getting a defensive shout-out, goes 0-6, 2K. He left a hefty 7 runners on base. That smells like goat to me!
On the Morrow:
Scott Feldman (1-2, 5.09) versus Kendall Graveman (1-1, 6.94)
Both of the remaining games in this series are day games, which should please those in the Central time zones. 4 Eastern, 3 Central.