Dallas Keuchel (3-0, 0.80) versus Matt Shoemaker (2-2, 5.40)
aka "Battle of the Beards"
This was the third game of a four game set, and the second-last game before an off day. Houston has always been pretty confident when sending Dallas Keuchel to the mound over the last year, and Matt Shoemaker has struggled this year after winning 16 games and being very solid down the stretch in 2014. This game was closer than it could have been - the Angels got to Keuchel, but he rebounded well to hold the lead when he turned it over to the bullpen, and the job got done despite some ninth inning jitters. Plus, the 'Stros hit a home run in the first three innings of a game for the first time since Oct 2, 2004. An interesting night, Astros win 6-5.
Wins over the second-place team in the division are gold. The Astros hold a six game lead over the Angels, and 6.5 over the Mariners. The A's are in a free-fall at the moment, sitting 8.5 games back. It is early, but the rest of the division face large deficits.
On the Mound:
Keuchel was knocked around early a bit in this game. He seemed to be missing up a little, and some uncharacteristic walks (plus some solid at-bats from the Angels) meant that he gave up a total four runs with scoring in three separate innings. However, he hung in there to go six-and-two-thirds, and left with Albert Pujols at the plate as the game-tying run. A.J. Hinch went to the fresh pitcher, meaning Keuchel finished his night on 103 pitches. He allowed 10 baserunners (8 hits, 2 walks), struck out seven, and all four runs were earned. His ERA now sits at a bloated 1.39. His 13-game streak of consecutive quality starts has been broken.
The first frame was rough. Kole Calhoun singled to CF, then Mike Trout reached on an infield single to shortstop. Could have been an error - but it was a tough play in the hole, and Trout is fast. Albert Pujols popped out to second for the first out, then David Freese waled on seven pitches to load the bases Erick Aybar was looking low and away, and Keuchel put it there, and Aybar singled up the middle, scoring two. Keuchel very nearly snared the comeback, which would have led to an easy double-play. Then Johnny Giavotella walked on four straight pitches to re-load the bases, but Carlos Pérez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame. Keuchel was probably relieved - it could have been a whole lot worse. The pitch to Pérez was a quality strike, low in the zone.
He rebounded in the second and third frames to retire the side in order, striking out two in the process. In the fourth, Giavotella singled with one out on the first pitch, and Carlos Pérez got a pitch in the middle of the plate. He slashed it the other way down the right field line for a double, and Giavotella scored from first. That ran the score to 6-3 to the Astros.
In the next inning, Mike Trout took a 2-1 pitch to deep right-CF. Keuchel up missed with a change-up - similar location to the Carlos Pérez double, and Trout hit it a third of the way up the batting eye in CF. It was a long home run - not a cheapie at all - but Keuchel bounced back to end the frame. A Carlos Pérez single (seriously, what IS it about former Astros farmhands against their parent club) was the only blemish in the sixth frame, and in the seventh, Mike Trout managed to dump one into shallow RF for a single with two outs, ending Keuchel's night.
Pat Neshek took over, and he retired Pujols to end the frame, then retired the side in order in the eighth. Chad Qualls got the save opportunity, and he managed to get two quick outs (Carlos Pérez and Matt Joyce) before giving up a single and an RBI double to narrow the margin to 1. With first base open, the Astros elected to walk Mike Trout - the go-ahead run - to face Albert Pujols. On a 1-0 count, Pujols grounded a nasty sinker up the middle, which González deftly flipped to Altuve at second for the force to end the game.
At the Plate:
The Astros started well, with new leadoff man Handsome Jake singling to RF to start the game. He hit a slicing line drive down the line, and he was a shoo-in for a double until he slipped on the top of the base while rounding first. He got back to first without incident, but he was erased on a caught stealing when Pérez fired a nice throw on a high fastball to second in time. That play was magnified when Jose Altuve got a leaked a 1-2 fastball that was meant to be up and away, but was middle-third and belt high. Altuve turned on it and hit it five rows back into the LF seats, around 5 yards inside the foul pole for a solo homer.
In the second, Colby Rasmus found himself down 0-2, then worked a walk on 4 straight balls. Shoemaker was missing his spots, and when his missed with a low fastball away, Carter got a nice pitch to drive and he didn't miss. The ball missed arm-side-and-up, and Carter went the other way, driving it well over the scoreboard in RF. The swing looked nice and short, and very compact, and it got out easily. That put the Astros in the lead for good.
In the third, the Astros capitalised on a Marisnick double which just eluded the diving Angels left-fielder to drop for a hit. He advanced to third when Altuve grounded one the other way. Luis Valbuena drove him in with a line-drive single that dropped just in front of the Kole Calhoun in RF. After a Gattis strikeout, Colby Rasmus got a splitter that didn't sink, and he drove it fifteen rows back into the CF side of the RF stands. It was a majestic shot - already his sixth of the year - and it gave the Astros a nice 4-run cushion.
Jose Alvarez came on to start the fourth, relieving Shoemaker. He walked two in the fourth, but neither runner advanced past second. He walked another in the sixth, but Conger didn't advance past first. Vinnie Pestano was assigned the seventh, and he struck out two while retiring the side in order. Mike Morin started the eighth, and he retired the side in order. A Preston Tucker walk in the ninth off Ryan Mattheus was the final baserunner of the night for the Astros, and he also didn't advance. So off the bullpen over six innings, the Astros walked four times, and didn't get a hit.
Jake Marisnick was the only Astro to get two hits on the night (2-5, 2B, CS). Altuve and Rasmus (both 1-3, BB, HR) and Carter (1-4, HR) went yard, with Rasmus and Carter driving in two runs with their homers. Valbuena had a hit (1-4, with a stellar defensive play) and Hank Conger and Preston Tucker each had a walk (0-3, BB).
Carlos Pérez, the Angels catcher, took a break from killing the Astros in the first. With the bases loaded and one out, and two runs already in, Pérez was kind enough to hammer a sinking fastball on a 3-1 count into the dirt. It got to González at short quickly enough, and he flicked it on to Altuve, who nailed his throw to Carter for an inning ending 6-4-3 double play. If that ball gets through, the game is different, but Keuchel was able to escape a horror first inning, eventually getting two outs in the seventh and leaving with the lead.
Man of the Match:
Colby Rasmus was standing on first with Chris Carter launched a home run into right field on a thigh-high pitch away. He must have thought he could do better - and next inning he did. A splitter flattened out and didn't sink, and Rasmus hit a long shot to RF, 15-20 rows into the bleachers. It was estimated at 428 feet. The thing about the Astros is that Carter, Springer and Gattis all have power and reputations, so guys like Rasmus can just lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting pitchers. He has six home runs on the year, and is hitting .250/.327/.534.
Goat of the Game:
Marwin González had a rough night. 0-4, 3K.
Scott Feldman (2-3, 5.50) against Garrett Richards (2-1, 2.52)
Richards' last start against the Astros was his first of the season. He looked rusty. The above numbers suggest that he has turned it around since then. The Astros are going for their fifth consecutive series win on the road. They are 12-3 on the road this year.
3:35 Eastern, 2:35 Central.