Roberto Hernández (2-3, 3.99) versus Anibal Sánchez (3-5, 5.60)
The Astros entered this game down 2-1 in a four-game series against a genuine AL contender. They had lost the first game of the series in extra-innings after a late-game comeback, and lost the second after giving up a bunch of unearned runs late (when already behind in the game). Yesterday's game was a fun dance party, with the Astros walking off with a close win after a solid Lance McCullers start and a triple play. So the Astros entered this game with a chance to lock it all up at 2-2, and run their record to 29-16.
And that is what they did. This was another wild game, including another late comeback which underscores how much better than the opposition that they have been in late-game situations this year (the link is really worth a read). The Angels lost, so the Astros' lead over LA improved to 6.5 games, with the Rangers overtaking the Mariners to sit a further game back for the third place in the division. The Astros' .500-watch calculation has now them sitting at 87-74 after the penultimate game of the season, where they have been for some time. So things are the best they have been for a decade, and games like this, where the Astros have shown some serious spine, only serve to confirm that impression.
Astros win, 10-8.
On the Mound:
Roberto Hernández and his 4.95 FIP took the mound for this one. He was staked to a three-run lead by the time he took the mound, but he ended the first with a two-run deficit. However, he bounced back to stagger through five frames, throwing 95 pitches in the process. He allowed 9 hits and three walks, yielding seven runs (all earned), whilst retiring 5 on strikeouts. Hernández has been good this year, but for those of you waiting for him to turn into a pumpkin, this start may serve to solidify your concerns.
Hernández opened the game poorly, walking Anthony Gose to open the frame. Gose was the architect of his own demise when he was caught stealing two pitches later - a great throw by Castro was right on the money. Ian Kinsler followed with a walk, then Miguel Cabrera doubled down the LF line to send Kinsler to third. Hernández was missing arm-side on many of his pitches, and was clearly struggling for command and control of his pitches.
Anyhow, a sac-fly, then an RBI single followed, then a walk to Nick Castellanos after Hernández was up in the count 0-2. An infield single loaded the bases - Rajai Davis beat Chris Carter to the bag after Carter fielded a hard-hit grounder hit near right to him, a fair way off the line. Bryan Holaday then took a pitch that Hernández missed arm-side on again, and he hit a hard line drive into the LF corner, clearing the bags. The Tigers had turned their three-run deficit into a two-run lead inside of eight batters.
A lead-off single in the second made it look like Hernández may have a very short outing, but Gose was erased on the next pitch due to a double play. Hernández faced the minimum in eight pitches in the second, and ten pitches in the third. In the fourth, Hernández retired the first two hitters in order, then allowed a clean single to Andrew Romine up the middle. Anthony Gose followed with a double to RF, with the outfield shading the other way against the lefty Gose. Hernández's pitch missed over the plate, and Romine beat the throw home from right field handily for the sixth Tiger run of the game.
In the fifth, Hernández again retired the first two batters in order before allowing a Yoenis Céspedes double on a pitch down-and-away in the sixth. Marisnick had a chance to make the catch in plenty of time, but he dove, and the ball flicked off the top of his glove and bounded away behind him. The non-play / "error" was compounded when Nick Castellanous doubled deep to RF off the base of the wall, scoring the Tigers' penultimate run of the game. Hernandez enticed Davis into a grounder to end the inning.
Joe Thatcher relieved to start the sixth, and he retired the side in order on nine pitches. Josh Fields allowed a double to ex-teammate J.D. Martinez, but he also recorded a scoreless frame, including a nasty strikeout of Yoenis Cespedes on an elevated fastball. Chad Qualls worked around a lead-off single and a two-out bunt single to record a scoreless frame, and Luke Gregerson was staked to a three run lead, but he allowed a one-out home run down the left field line to Miguel Cabrera, (an elevated 4-seamer inside) then a single to Julio Daniel before fanning Céspedes and getting Castellanos to ground out.
At the Plate:
The Astros started very strongly, hanging three on opposing starter Anibel Sánchez in the first. George Springer led off (Jose Altuve was resting), and he opened the game with a line drive to CF on a 2-2 count. He took second on the next pitch, which was waaaay inside and got away from the catcher, Bryan Holaday. Marwin González then reached on a bunt single, diving head-first into first and just beating Sánchez to the bag. Luis Valbuena then grounded out, sending Marwin González to second, then Evan Gattis reached out on a ball 6 inches off the plate, and flicked it into the RF corner, The outfield was shaded to the pull side on the right-hander Gattis, and Rajai Davis had to retrieve the ball from the corner, allowing Gattis to roll into third for the third triple of his career (and second of the series). Springer and González both scored.
Rasmus walked, then Gattis scored on a balk. Sánchez faked the throw to third - something that I have only ever really seen Roger Clemens do with any regularity - and both runners moved up a base. The Rocket used to spin around and try and get the runner at first afterward. I never saw the move have any success in terms of catching baserunners, and have welcomed the rule interpretation classifying it as a balk.
The second was remarkable for a line-drive one-out double that Jake Marisnick reached second on. Davis in right seemed to misplay it, and the ball carried over his head. In the third, the side went in order without much fuss. Sánchez struck out the side in the fourth and fifth, with only a Springer walk on a full count the latter of the two frames interrupting the parade of strikeouts.
But the sixth is where the Astros did their damage. Anibal Sánchez opened the frame at 85 pitches. His 88th pitch was a low slider down and in that Gattis reached down and golfed to straight-away LF. The pitch was low, and cleared the fence by plenty because of Gattis' power. That hit vaulted Gattis over the Mendoza Line - hopefully for good - and the increased production from him in this series has certainly been welcome.
But the Astros weren't finished. At that point, they trailed 7-4. After a Coby Rasmus strikeout, Chris Carter singled through the 5.5 hole into LF. After a Jason Castro strikeout, Jonathan Villar singled between the first and second basemen, sending Chris Carter to third base. Sensing the need for more offence, A.J. Hinch sent Preston Tucker to the plate in plate of Handsome Jake. Tucker worked the count to 2-1 before hammering a fly ball with his characteristic flat swing into deep RF for a three-run, game tying, pinch-hit home run. The ball landed plenty deep over the RF fence, about 10 yards fair. Sánchez knew it the minute it left the bat, and the Astros' celebrations were muted - perhaps a sign that they had more work to do.
They didn't waste any time getting that work done. Marwin González singled to RF to open the seventh, then Gattis singled to right with one out to put runners on first and second. Gattis utilised the large hole left between first and second, with the first baseman holding the runner on, and the second baseman shading toward second in case of a steal. After a Colby Rasmus strikeout, a semi-intentional walk to Chris Carter brought Jason Castro to the plate with the bases loaded, and Castro responded by hitting a line drive on a 3-2 fastball in the hole between first and second. Two runs scored, Carter cruised into third, and the Astros took their first lead since the first inning. The score was 9-7.
In the eighth, Tucker singled the other way to open the frame - right over where a conventional shortstop shaded slightly toward second would be playing. He was sacrificed to second, then Marwin González drove him home with a single to RF. Tucker hesitated around third, but made it home when the throw was cut in front of the plate. González was caught in a run down between first and second, but the Tigers left second base unattended, and he slid in without a tag. The catcher, Bryan Holaday tried to cover second, and ended up sliding into González's ribs with his knees when González slid head-first into second with his arms extended. It was a clumsy play, and González took a while to recover, but he ultimately continued the game. Wouldn't be surprised to see him sit for a couple of days.
And that was it for the offence. The Astros hung 10 runs on the Tigers behind three-hit nights from Marwin González (3-5) and Evan Gattis (3-4, BB, 3B, HR, 3 runs scored). The ninth spot in the lineup also combined for three hits (Marisnick 1-2, 2B and Tucker 2-2, HR, 3RBI, 2 runs scored). George Springer - leading off - went 1-3 with a walk, and Chris Carter went 1-4 with a walk. Jonathan Villar and Jason Castro both went 1-5, and Colby Rasmus went 0-4 with a walk. Only Valbuena didn't reach base (0-5, 2K).
Preston Tucker has hit two home runs in his Major League career. Both were in this series, and both were pinch-hit home runs. Both home runs tied the game. Tucker's line stands at .324/.419/.595, and while he isn't going to continue at that pace for the whole year, he has a swing geared for contact which is a great contrasting look for this team. Despite his solid contact rates, however, he has some pop and some plate discipline, so he will be a hard man to return to the minor leagues anytime soon.
Man of the Match:
Well, that Preston Tucker guy only played one third of the game, so he can't get it. How about Evan Gattis?? He finished a double short of the cycle (which is, as the Constable is fond of saying, like being one girl short of a threesome, although he normally quotes that when a batter is a triple short of the cycle, so I will leave it to him to comment further) and his average poked it's head above the Mendoza line. If Gattis is breaking out, it is well-timed, because Altuve, Rasmus and Marisnick have cooled off, but Tucker and Springer are starting to get going. So... look out!
Goat of the Game:
Valbuena went 0-5, 2K. He is interesting with his 10 homers and all, but his average now sits under .200, and his OBP is a Matt Dominguez-esque .263. I guess that this strengthens the idea that Correa may be brought up prior to the All-Star Break, and Correa and Lowrie can share shortstop and third base in some capacity from August onward, things going well.
On the Morrow:
The Astros complete their Memorial Weekend road-swing with a series against the 19-22 Baltimore Orioles. The Astros have managed to turn their rotation over again, with a 2-3 record over the last five games, with only Feldman and McHugh's starts resulting in losses.
Dallas Keuchel (6-0, 1.67) versus Wei-Yin Chen (1-3, 2.90)
1:35 Eastern, 12:35 Central.