Lance McCullers Jr (1-0, 2.53) versus Carlos Rodon (1-0, 4.03)
The White Sox roll into town for a three game set. The two teams are coming off polar opposite Thursdays: the Astros had a leisurely trip back to Houston from Baltimore on Wednesday and had Thursday off, while the White Sox played a Thursday double-header against the Orioles, making up for the games that were postponed due to the civil unrest in Baltimore in late April. Interestingly, both teams played (and lost) to the Orioles in their most recent game - and the Orioles are also the next opponent for the Astros. Not sure how many times that has happened in Major League history, but if it was in any way interesting, I am sure the Elias Sports Bureau would be all over it.
Anyhow, the Astros had a late lead, then the game went to extra innings, then Tony Sipp - for his third appearance in a row - gave up the game-losing hit. The Astros went down in 11 innings by a score of 6-3.
On the Mound:
This was a battle of what is (McCullers) versus what could have been (Rodon). Fittingly and perhaps symbolically, neither starter earned the win or loss, despite McCullers being lifted early, and Rodon pitching much later into the game, but allowing three runs (one earned). McCullers went four-and-one-third frames, allowing two runs (one earned), walking two while striking out seven. He had all sorts of problems with his control today, with Conger frequently having to stab at balls well out of the zone. McCullers' change-up seemed particularly poorly controlled, with an insane amount of run often taking it well out of the strike zone away from left handers.
The first inning said it all about McCullers' night. Hit batter, line-out to a diving and perfectly positioned Marisnick, single, strikeout, strikeout: all or nothing. The second resulted in more basepath traffic - single, fly-out, strikeout, single (runners at the corners), hit by pitch (Adam Eaton, second time in the game, loading the bases) and a grounder to second.
The irony after all of this is that the White Sox's first run would score on a strikeout. In the third, Alexi Ramírez doubled high off the LF bullpen fence with two away. He scored from second when Conor Gillaspie struck out - Conger called for a pitch down and away, McCullers missed down and inside, Gillaspie swung and missed anyhow, Conger couldn't corral the ball, and it bounded away between Cowboy Joe West's legs. Conger retrieved it, and had plenty of time to throw Gillaspie out, but he threw a cutter instead of a four-seamer, and the ball drifted into the runner, who was still a couple of steps from first base. Ramírez continued running and Gillaspie advanced when the ball bounced off his back and bounded toward the Astros' dugout. It was an ugly play from Handsome Hank, and it resulted in the first run of the game.
McCullers recorded a one-two-three frame in the fourth on two strikeouts and a fly-out. In the fifth, McCullers retired the lead-off hitter (Melky Cabrera) before loading the bases with a single and two walks. Joe Thatcher relieved to face the lefty Gillaspie, but Robin Ventura pinch hit with his utility righty, Gordon Beckham, who pounded a fly-ball to CF, deep enough to score the runner from third for the second out. Thatcher then walked ex-Stro and lefty J.B. Shuck on four pitches to re-load the bases, before A.J. Hinch called for Will Harris to dig the Astros out of the mess. Harris and Flowers engaged in an 8 pitch battle (including an initial 3-0 count ), but Harris ended up retiring Flowers on a fly out to right field.
Harris came out to start the sixth. Side retired in order. The guy has given up six hits (and six walks) in 24 frames this season. Pat Neshek got the seventh, and he retired the side on 12 pitches, striking out two. Chad Qualls inherited a 3-2 lead starting the eighth, and he immediately gave up a Gordon Beckham home run on the first pitch - a flat sinker that was supposed to be down and away, but missed up and over-the-plate. Beckham drove it out into the LF power alley. It was an awful pitch, and Qualls knew it, but he settled down to retire the next three in order without further damage.
A.J. Hinch summoned Luke Gregerson to start the ninth. Aside from a 4-pitch walk to Geovany Soto (batting instead of Jose Abreu, who left the game with a finger owie) it was an unremarkable inning. Josh Fields got the tenth, and he allowed a 2-out 4-pitch walk to J.B. Shuck, who was later caught stealing to end the frame. Fields also started the 11th, striking out Tyler Flowers before walking Carlos Sánchez on four pitches, with a number of the pitches very call-able inside that vital at-bat. But Sánchez walked with one out, and Hinch opted to summon Tony Sipp from the 'pen to continue the inning.
Sipp started poorly. He allowed an Adam Eaton single, sending the runner to second. He bounced back to fan Melky Cabrera on a full-count, and runners on first and second. That brought Geovany Soto to the plate. The outfield was playing shallow, so when Soto drove a fastball away that missed up, George Springer had no hope to track the ball down, and it bounced off the wall on the full. Both runners scored, then Adam LaRoche drove in Soto with a broken-bat single through the shift to add to the misery. Sipp continues his poor run, and suddenly "lefty reliever" can be added to the Astros' list of problems to address either through promotions, or through trades.
At the Plate:
The Astros possibly made Carlos Rodon probably look better than he was for a few frames - Rodon also had control problems, but he kept his pitch-count low, and managed to avoid a great deal of traffic on the basepaths. The Astros were unable to land the knockout blow and lost a runner at the plate, which didn't help.
Jose Altuve singled with one out in the first, and advanced to second on Preston Tucker's fly-out for the second out. Evan Gattis hit a hard liner through the 5.5 hole that raced out to Melky Cabrera in left, and Altuve was sent home from second. The ball was there in plenty of time - a perfect throw - and Altuve was out at the plate.
The decision to send Altuve was magnified when Chris Carter singled leading off the second. However, a Valbeuna double-play ball erased both of them, and the next baserunner was Gattis in the fourth, who singled with two outs. He advanced to second on a passed ball, then scored on Chris Carter's hard grounder that bounced off Conor Gillaspie's glove and into left field. Melky's throw was well off line, and Gattis scored easily to tie the game at 1-1.
The Astros lost the lead in the top of the fifth, and Jonathan Villar was not happy about it. So he doubled leading off the frame - a perfect gap-shot that bisected the CF-RF fielders and went all the way to the wall. He advanced to third on a Conger grounder, but Handsome Jake struck out and George Springer lined out to end the frame.
In the sixth, the Astros scored two runs. Jose Altuve hit a lead off single, then Preston Tucker doubled down the RF line. He pounded a ball into the dirt that bounced just over Jose Abreu at first, and rolled half-way to the wall. Altuve went to third, Tucker to second, and after an Evan Gattis grounder, Chris Carter lined out to Melky Cabrera in LF to bring Altuve home. Melky went 1-3 in throws for the night - this throw home airmailed the plate by quite a margin, and Tucker advanced to third as well. Tucker scored when Valbeuna grounded out to Jose Abreu, who underhand-tossed to Carlos Rodon. Rodon had to jump to get the ball, and he missed the base on the landing, so Valbeuna was safe, and Tucker scored.
Scoring-wise, that was it for the Astros. Preston Tucker doubled with one out in the eighth, but he was only able to watch as Chris Carter and Evan Gattis both struck out to end the frame. Jonathan Villar - who strung together some solid at-bats tonight - walked in the ninth, but he was caught stealing second on a very close play. Springer and Altuve walked in the tenth with one out, but they didn't advance. Villar singled in the 11th to keep the game alive, but a Conger pop-out sealed the deal.
Altuve and Villar were both on base thrice (2-4, BB) with Villar also having a double and a caught stealing, and Altuve being thrown out at the plate. Tucker, Gattis and Carter also went 2-4, with both of Tucker's hits being doubles. George Springer worked some deep counts, but went 0-4 with a walk. Valbeuna and Conger both went 0-5, K, and Marisnick 0-4 with 3K's.
I was listening to the first inning on the radio, and I recall feeling disgusted when Altuve was thrown out at the plate. I checked the replay, and sure enough, Gattis had hit a hard liner into an advancing left-fielder, and the throw was bang-on. The feeling was compounded when Carter led off the second with a single.
Anyhow, as the game evolved, I think I have worked out what Gary Pettis at third base was thinking. Melky Cabrera's throw to the plate in the fourth missed sideways by about 15 feet, and his throw to the plate in the sixth missed upward by about 10 feet. The man was a human scattergun tonight. Like I said in the recap, Cabrera went 1-for-3 in throws to the plate tonight, and it just happened that the one throw he did make is the turning point of the game.
Man of the Match:
The middle-infielders of Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar both went 2-4 with a walk. Hard to beat that. Unless, of course, you are Chris Carter, who went 2-4 with two RBI's. Three Men of the Match tonight.
Goat of the Game:
Handsome Hank went 0-5 with a vital error, and Handsome Jake went 0-4. Sort it out, Handsomes.
On the Morrow:
The Astros' bullpen remains relatively fresh, with Buchanan and Feliz not having pitched tonight, and the off-day on Thursday. But thank goodness Dallas Keuchel is going for the 'stros, so perhaps some relief is in sight.
José Quintana (2-5, 4.67) versus Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98) in the battle of the lefties.
4 Eastern, 3 Central.