J.A. Happ (2-1, 2.30) versus Roberto Hernandez (1.2, 3.80)
The 25 game mark was celebrated with another rousing win over a solid-yet-underperforming Seattle outfit that a number of pundits picked to win the AL Pennant this year. The Astros got the go ahead run in the bottom of the eighth, after blowing a 6-1 lead. The eventual winning score was 7-6, which meant that the Astros completed their fifth consecutive series win, their third consecutive series sweep, won their tenth straight game, and ran their record to 14-5 against divisional opponents. They now lead the AL West by 7 games, and have the best record in the AL by 1.5 games. Things are... um... going well.
On the Mound:
Today, Roberto Hernandez got a tough assignment as a RH starter against a LH leaning lineup that hits fastballs well. Plus, the odd right hander in the lineup - such as that Nelson Cruz guy - aren't exactly slackers, either. So this game had a non-zero risk of going pear-shaped early for Roberto, and I kind of wondered how far into the game that he would be allowed to pitch, with a reasonably fresh 'pen and all.
Hernandez started well, with a one-out Seth Smith single into left as the only baserunner in the first inning. Smith took an away pitch, and slashed it wide of an over shifted 3B Villar who was in the 5.5 hole (with the shortstop González standing on the first-base side of second). Things got even better in the second for Hernandez, with the Mariners being set down order.
In the third, Hernandez allowed a lead off double to Dustin Ackley to the base of the scoreboard in LF. The ball took a funny hop and Ackley was able to steam into second base. Brad Miller then hit a hard line-drive down the RF line which clanged off the padding where the stands jut out and the ball kind of died in the corner. George Springer had a long run, and by the time he had thrown the ball in, Miller was standing on third base. Austin Jackson grounded out for the second out, then Seth Smith hit a fly ball to medium right, which was caught by Springer. Brad Miller tagged up and tried to score on the play, but Springer's throw was perfect. Miller, despite initially being ruled safe, was given out because his foot bounced in the dirt short of home plate, and was in the air over home plate when the tag was made. First outfield assist to Springer this year, but as the handsome and wise Astros County readers pointed out a week-or-so ago, people simply haven't been running on his cannon arm.
A Nelson Cruz single, then a double-play defined a scoreless fourth for Hernandez, and a lead-off walk followed by three outs recorded in the air accounted for the fifth frame. I wondered whether Hernandez was starting to leave his pitches up at this point. Hernandez started the sixth with a 6-1 lead. With one out, Seth Smith tripled to deep CF (the warning track just short of Tal's Hill) and the throw into third was a little late, bounced off the runner, and bounded on into the Mariners dugout. Smith got to advance another base which brought him home, and the Mariners trailed by a score of 6-2.
Robinson Canó - the next batter - walked, and bizarrely tried to steal second with Nelson Cruz at home plate. But he got a great jump and has solid speed, but Castro's throw was picture perfect, and Canó was out on a bang-bang play that was possibly wrong. Cruz then struck out to end the frame.
Hernandez opened the seventh frame with a 6-2 lead. Three hits were then recorded in the next six pitches - an infield single that Hernandez got a glove on trying to protect himself that rebounded to third, a hard-hit single to the LF-CF gap, and a run-scoring double to deep LF off the out-of-town scoreboard. Runners on the corners with no outs and the game-tying run at the plate, and A.J. Hinch wandered out to the mound to retrieve Hernandez and bring in lefty Tony Sipp. McClendon countered by asking righty Rickie Weeks to pinch hit, and he responded by hitting a long double to the base of Tal's Hill to clear the bases. Weeks scored when he tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt, Castro had him hung up going into third, but Villar had to reach across his body to grab the throw. He was a little quick in transitioning to applying the tag, the ball bounced off the end of Villar's glove, and Weeks - who was toast going into third - scored easily.
Sipp kept getting hit hard. Seth Smith doubled into the RF-CF gap - right to the warning track and just out of the reach of an sprawling George Springer - but Sipp rebounded to strike out Robinson Canó swinging for the final out.
Pat Neshek got the assignment for the eighth, and he retired the side in order, including strikeouts of Nelson Cruz swinging and Kyle Seager looking. Gregerson had the ninth, and he struck out Mike Zunino, walked Rickie Weeks, and enticed Brad Miller into a double play to second. Gregerson erased the homerrific memories of two days ago, thankfully.
Hernandez ended the night with a 6+ IP, 8H, 5R/4ER, 2BB, K night. Sipp allowed a single unearned run, and gave up two long hits in one inning of work. Neshek and Gregerson faced the minimum.
At the Plate:
J.A. Happ was on the bump for Seattle, and he started by getting Altuve to ground to second. González dumped one off the end of the bat into LF for a one-out single, then Springer drew ball 4 on a 3-1 count. That brought Gattis to the plate, and he pounded an 84 mph off speed pitch right down the middle into the Crawford Boxes for the three run shot. Happ missed glove side and up, and Gattis didn't miss at all. The ball cleared the wall in a hurry.
Carter then walked, Rasmus (0-3, BB) struck out and Marisnick (1-4) singled to move Carter to second. Jason Castro then hit a ground ball to third for the final out, and Happ escaped the first inning after allowing five baserunners. The Astros went in order in the second, but George Springer (1-3, BB, 2B) led off the third with a double down the first-base line. It didn't get that far into the outfield, but Springer was hustling all the way, and he slid into second for an easy double. Springer was then caught off second on Gattis' other-way grounder - Canó fielded, noticed Springer trying to advance, and fired to third, and Springer was unable to return to second in time. Gattis reached, however, and he had a front row seat to watch Chris Carter (1-3, BB, HR) take a high changeup and deposit it into the Crawford Boxes for a two run shot. Carter knew it straight away, and the ball nearly got out of the stadium, but hit just above the Community Leaders signs.
Jason Castro (1-3, 2B) led off the fourth with a stand up double just inside the first base bag, then, with one out, Jose Altuve as intentionally walked. I guess that set up the double play with one out, and González (2-4) is known for hitting the ball on the ground. On this occasion, however, he found a gap in the right side of the infield, Castro scored, and Altuve (0-3, BB) was caught trying to advance to third. The play was reviewed, and despite looks that confirmed that it was a very close play, the call on the field stood, and Altuve was out. Springer lined out for the final out.
The Astros bats then went quiet for a while, going in order for the fifth, sixth and seventh frames. The seventh inning was pitched by Carson Smith, who had not given up a run in the majors to that point. Smith started the eighth in a tied game, and the game remained tied for two pitches, when Evan Gattis hit a line-drive home run on an elevated slider into the first row of the Crawford Boxes. Gattis has a freakish ability to hit line drives, and he drilled this one just high enough to the first row, where a guy with the a rainbow uni muffed the catch. Poor Carson Smith has finally given up a run in the majors after 19-and-one-third frames.
So the Astros took a lead that they wouldn't relinquish, scoring six of seven runs on home runs to Carter and Gattis. Good to see the big boppers heating up, and happily the Astros have some wins in the bank from when they were not hitting well.
Pick a Gattis homer. They are really worth seeing. Thankfully, MLB.com have packaged them together in one highlight that includes the wonderful Robert Ford calling the go-ahead one. Check it out.
Man of the Match:
Evan Gattis. This is what he was brought to Houston for. 2-4, 2HR, 4RBI, four home runs in the last three games. The man hits the ball hard, and now he is starting to see the results of that. Boom.
Goat of the Game:
Jonathan Villar gets the Goat today. He made a couple of nice defensive plays on hot shots to third, but he also allowed Rickie Weeks to score when he was toast on the base paths with a missed catch. I like Villar (sorry, Becky) but he needs to get it going soon lest someone else get a go while Jed is gone. Perhaps a goat award will... um... butt him into action.
On the Morrow:
Handsome and heroic Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.73) heads to the bump, opposed by Ross Detwiler (0-3, 8.66). Game eleven of the win streak is on the line.
8 Eastern, 7 Central.