Asher Wojciechowski (0-1, 6.00) versus Drew Pomeranz (1-2, 4.24)
Wojo has struggled since assuming the fifth spot in the rotation, with the only solid performance of his coming in relief (4IP, 0R/ER against Oakland). His starts have been unimpressive: two 4IP, 4ER appearances against Cleveland and Seattle. From the limited action I saw in Spring Training - when Wojo was throwing well - his command seems to have worsened, as he appears to have struggled to spot his pitches.
Regardless, the Astros sent Wojo to the mound today to try for an away sweep in Oakland. Wojo was twice unable to hold a lead, but the Astros came back late on a clutch 2-run double, and ended the game 7-6 up. They remain atop the AL West, and have managed to run their record to 11-7, which is the best start for the Astros in recent memory. This young team has some moxie, and are fun to watch at the moment... for the first time in a few years.
On the Mound:
Wojo retired the side in order in the first inning, with two groundouts and a strikeout on 11 pitches. In the second, he was less fortunate - but it was partly self inflicted because a one-out walk to Ike Davis quickly scored. Josh Reddick - the very next batter - tripled to CF past Marisnick (who was shaded toward the LF gap) and Davis scored. Brett Lawrie hit a sac-fly plenty deep to CF, and the A's led by two early.
The Astros bats scored three in the top of the third, and Wojo responded by striking out the side in the bottom half of the frame. When the Astros scored two more in the top of the fourth, Wojo held a three-run lead. He led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk to Stephen Vogt, then allowed an Ike Davis one-out double to the RF-CF gap which Springer stopped getting past him with a dive. Reddick then popped out for the second out, but Brett Lawrie singled to CF to score both runners. Eric Sogard (just past a diving Carter) then Craig Gentry (through the 5.5 hole) singled to score Lawrie, and the A's had tied it up with three consecutive 2-out singles.
Sam Deduno opened the bottom of the fifth, so Wojo's night was done. He lasted 4IP (again), and gave up 5 ER in the process. He struck out 4 while walking two, and allowed 5 hits. I gained the impression that hitters generally recognised his breaking-ball early, and were often able to stay off it because he wasn't able to throw it for strikes.
Deduno fared a little better, giving up a hard-hit two out double off the base of the wall to Country Breakfast in the fifth, and retiring the side in order in the sixth. However, he ran into trouble in the seventh when Craig Gentry worked a walk, and was sacrificed to second by Sam Fuld (the game was tied at this point). Marcus Semien then singled just over a leaping Lowrie to drive Gentry home, and the A's led 6-5.
A.J. Hinch then called upon Tony Sipp, who retired the next two batters to get out of the frame. Sipp also retired the side in order in the eighth, including a hard-hit liner to RF off the bat of Brett Lawrie that Springer went back well on, and caught without problems. A flashback to Texas, perhaps, but without the game on the line and the wall in immediate proximity.
The Astros scored two in the top of the ninth to take the lead, so Luke Gregerson entered for the save. It didn't take long - six pitches were enough to retire the side - and the Astros managed to leave Oakland with a three-game sweep.
At the Plate:
For the second consecutive night, Jose Altuve wasted no time in extending his against-the-A's hit steak with a single to RF on an 0-2 count. He reached out and drove one down the line, beating Davis at first to his left. Pomeranz then threw three consecutive pitches past George Springer to strike him out, Jed Lowrie saw two first-up strikes in grounding into a fielder's choice. The first pitch of Evan Gattis' at-bat was also a strike. Fair to say that Pomeranz was pounding the strike zone early.
In the second, a González double to RF with two outs was the only baserunner - great piece of running to just beat Reddick's throw. It was the third frame when the Astros' scoring started. Handsome Jake - back after sitting out with iliotibial band soreness - reached on an error. Ike Davis at first failed to field a slow chopper to his right because he was rushing to beat Marisnick to the bag, and Handsome Jake reached when he was unable to corral the ball. Marisnick then stole second, and Jose Altuve reached on an infield single to third base (off the back of the pitcher, actually) leaving runners on the corners with no outs. With Springer batting, Altuve stole second to put two runners in scoring position with no outs.
But Springer struck out again - on an elevated pitch down the middle this time - then Jed Lowrie was pitched around to load the bases. This brought Gattis up with the bases loaded, and he hit a hard grounder to the right side that neatly bisected the first and second baseman, driving in both runners in scoring position. After a Carter pop out, Colby Rasmus jumped on the first pitch he saw - an elevated fastball - and lined it to right to score Jed Lowrie. González (1-4, 2B) popped out to end the frame.
Jason Castro walked to lead off the fourth frame. During Castro's at bat, a pitch low and away was rightly called a ball by the home plate umpire, and Bob Melvin objected. He was tossed from the game, but he made sure that he said what he needed to say before departing. The delay may have bothered Pomeranz, because he walked Jason Castro with the following pitch.
As an aside, Melvin may not have picked the best pitch to argue about, as Wojo didn't get calls on two similar pitches the inning before. Castro (0-3, BB) had plenty of beefs with the HP ump prior to that, but managed to keep his questioning of the umpire respectful. Anyhow, that left Jake Marisnick at the plate with Castro on and no outs, and he took an inside curveball that missed over the middle of the plate, and smoked a no-doubter to the LF power alley (right over the 362 sign) for a two-run shot. It was a lovely piece of hitting from Marisnick, and it made its way well into the stand over the fence plenty fast. Welcome back, Handsome Jake!
Spinger walked one out later in the fourth, but he was erased on a pickoff. After Lowrie flew out to left, the Astros had no more baserunners for the next three innings plus one batter. Chris Carter singled to left with one out in the eighth, then Colby Rasmus singled to right, putting runners on the corner. Marwin González struck out (he didn't like the call, and I agree), and Castro flew out to end the threat.
But all of that was a prelude to the fireworks in the ninth. Jake Marisnick led off with a hard-hit single to CF, and Altuve (2-5, 2xSB) grounded to third for what seemed to be a forceout. But no! Handsome Jake beat the throw into second - he was off running prior to Altuve swinging, then the ball was dropped by Semien on the force - and Altuve reached! Both runners moved up on a well executed double steal (that was unsuccessfully reviewed by the A's) to be in scoring position to watch George Springer strike out (again!) for the first out.
The A's then made the defensible move to have Tyler Clippard walk Jed Lowrie (0-3, 2BB) to load the bases with one out. But in doing so, they angered the White Bear, who hurt them on the fifth pitch of the subsequent at-bat. Evan Gattis hit a hard line-drive - perhaps it knuckled - into CF. The ball initially seemed to be heading down the throat of the CF (Sam Fuld), but it sailed over his head and went all the way to the wall. Two runners scored, Lowrie went into third and Gattis stopped at second for a two-run double. I am not totally sure how all the runners didn't score, which is part of the reason that I suspect the ball had some kind of funny spin - or perhaps lack of spin on it. All the important players participating in the play (fielders and runners) all seemed a little fooled by the carry the ball had on it at it raced out to straight-away CF.
Regardless, the Astros took the lead and were generous enough to allow no more baserunners to score in the frame. Valbuena (0-1) and Rasmus (2-5) both struck out, but the lead had been taken, and Gregerson closed the game out without drama.
Gattis' hit in the ninth. I have written plenty on how the ball behaved above, but the pitch that he doubled off warrants further description. He hit a line drive off an eye-level 93mph fastball - a minor miracle not to pop it up, really. It was not a high-fastball by design - Vogt had to get out of his crouch to get it - but Gattis managed to catch up on it and thump it into CF.
It should also be mentioned that Gattis hit twice with the bases loaded, and drove in four in those two at-bats. The dude can flat-out hit, and is coming around nicely. Just don't look at his triple-slash quite yet (.156/.194/.250).
Man of the Match:
Plenty of ink has been spilt about Gattis' ninth-inning (and third inning) heroics, but I like Handsome Jake for this one. Marisnick went 2-4, scoring three runs, and driving in two. He stole two bases (7 for the year), and hit a long home run off a Pomeranz curve. Beating the throw to second in the ninth inning was also a vital play when considering the end result.
Goat of the Game:
George Springer. 0-4, BB, 3K, CS. Back under the Mendoza line for George. Nice defensive play, however, and a hard-hit home run yesterday, so perhaps things are turning around for him.
The Astros roll on down to San Diego, where Collin McHugh (3-0, 2.41) takes on James Shields (2-0, 3.24)
10 Eastern, 9 Central.