And so the Astros farewell the first one-third of the season in style. Tight game, great bounce back from Lance McCullers after he struggled in his last start, and Chris Carter continues to heat up. The Astros won a very entertaining game of baseball, thanks to three solo home runs - including 900-odd feet of home runs from Chris Carter, and a 107 pitch, 11 strikeout complete-game from Lance McCullers - barely five days after he struggled against the White Sox. The Astros won by a score of 3-1. Let's recap:
On the Mound:
All McCullers, all the time. A.J. Hinch visited the mound with two outs in the ninth frame and the game-tying run at the plate, but he left McCullers in, and his faith was rewarded. McCullers allowed 4 hits and no (!) walks, striking out 11, giving up one earned run. Steve Sparks, at the beginning of the game, talked about McCullers' Vulcan grip change up - how he grips the ball with a split between the middle and ring fingers. That was the pitch that seemed to be running excessively last outing, and McCullers in his post game interview identified that he had been working hard on it between starts, and that work paid dividends tonight.
McCullers allowed runners in scoring position in only two innings. Steve Clevenger doubled to deep left - off the very top of the wall just above the out of town scoreboard - on a 1-0 count with two outs in the second inning. Steve Pearce was the next batter, and he grounded out to Jonathan Villar to end the frame. In the fourth, Adam Jones tripled to the left field power alley with one out, with the ball taking a funny hop off the fence, allowing the extra base. The pitch just caught the down and away corner of the strike zone. McCullers struck out Chris Davis for the second out, but Delmon Young - the man who rakes against fastballs - singled to right against a high fastball for a clutch two-out hit to bring Jones home and level the scores at one. That ball barely landed fair, kicking up some chalk on the foul-side of the RF line.
The only other baserunner that McCullers allowed was in the ninth. With two outs, and on a 2-2 count, Adam Jones singled the other way and took first. McCullers got a mound visit from A.J., before finishing Chris Davis on four pitches - the last of which was a curveball away and in the zone that Davis put a very defensive swing on for strike three. Two Gatorade showers followed, then I imagine that McCullers dried himself off, and found a party with strobe lights, loud music and a fog machine to attend for a while.
McCullers needed only thirteen pitches to complete the sixth and seventh frames. The O's were looking to attack his fastball early in the count, because his curveball was borderline unhittable. Below is a list of his strikeouts:
- David Lough, first inning, swinging 0-2 on a Vulcan grip change up (may it... ahem... live long and prosper).
- Adam Jones, first inning, checked swing on an 0-2 breaking pitch away.
- Manny Machado, third inning, looking on a 1-2 breaking ball inside.
- Chris Davis, fourth inning, swinging on a 1-2 change up.
- Steve Clevenger, fourth inning, looking on a breaking ball on the outside part of the plate to the lefty.
- Steve Pearce, fifth inning, full count, looking on a curveball inside.
- Ryan Flaherty, fifth inning, swinging on a 2-2 back foot curveball.
- Adam Jones, sixth inning, swinging on a 2-2 breaking pitch down and away.
- Jimmy Paredes, eighth inning, 2-2 count, swinging on a curveball.
- Ryan Flaherty, eighth inning, 1-2 count, swinging on another back foot curveball.
- Chris Davis, ninth inning, 1-2 count, swinging on a breaking pitch in the zone away.
Very enjoyable, and congrats to LMcC Jr, for his first major-league
shutout complete game, and his longest start in pro-ball at any level.
At the Plate:
Not much to write about here, either, as the Astros only managed 4 hits, but three of them were for extra bases, all home runs. No hitters walked. A solidly pitched ball game from Miguel González of the Orioles, who probably counts himself as a little unlucky.
George Springer led off the first with an infield single to shortstop - Flaherty at short and Machado at third nearly collided, and it was ruled an infield single. Preston Tucker erased him on a double-play one out later.
Chris Carter gave the Astros the lead in the second with a long home run. It was hit on a full count with two outs. The ball hit off the very top of the wall above the middle of the Crawford Boxes. González, who has good velocity, tried to bust Carter inside on a 93mph fastball, and he turned on it, sending it out of the stadium. It was impressive how Carter still knocked it out despite bringing his hands in to meet the pitch that was located just off the inside part of the plate.
Carter put the Astros back ahead for good in the fifth, with another home run, this one with one out. The pitch was another fastball, this time on a 2-0 count, and the pitch was located down and away. It wasn't elevated much above the knees, and it was spotted on the corner, but Carter extended his hands very well, and the ball hit just below where the @AstrosTrainGuy was sitting - in the locomotive, that is. This was Carter at his best, and it is going to be a fun summer if his recent hot streak continues.
George Springer in the sixth was the next baserunner for the Astros. He was only briefly a baserunner, because he just jogged around the bases, touching them briefly on his way to home. Springer took a 2-2 changeup that was meant to be away but drifted back over the plate, and he mashed a line-drive into the first row of the Boxes. It got out in a hurry and was hit very flat, and gave the Astros an insurance run that in retrospect may have given McCullers the chance to finish the game. Not sure he gets to stay in the game in the ninth frame with the go-ahead runner at the plate.
The Astros didn't get another baserunner on for the remainder of the game, probably because they were dying to see McCullers complete his outing. Carter and Springer both finished with two hits - Carter went 2-3 with 2HR, while Springer went 2-3, HR.
Lance McCullers, over the last four days, sorted something out that improved both his control and his command. Interestingly, he didn't throw to Conger today, even though Castro sat out yesterdays game after being hit in the knee in the first game of the series. Anyhow, the Turning Point was when McCullers figured out whatever he figured out, because if he keeps bringing the stuff to the table that he did tonight, opposing lineups have very little chance.
Man (Men) of the Match:
This ain't hard. Lance McCullers lowered his ERA to 1.88, and posted the most encouraging rookie pitching performance from an Astro for a long while. When he has three pitches working, he is very impressive, and his fastball velocity averaged more than 95mph tonight - a different look for the Astros starters, most of whom would struggle to break a window.
Chris Carter worked his average up above the Mendoza Line with his 2 hit, 2 home run game. His triple slash now sits at .205/.311/.398; and in his last ten games he has been very good, posting a .364/.450/.697 line, including 3 HR, six walks and 2 doubles. Carter is a lot of fun to watch when he is crushing fastballs. His demeanour is always respectful and quiet, so long may it continue. MLB.com has put together a Must C montage for Carter here - worth checking out if only to hear Robert Ford.
Goat of the Game:
Hard to award a goat today. So we won't.
So the Astros have managed to go 4-1 in their last run through the rotation (largely on the back of a three-game win streak), and tomorrow Dallas Keuchel goes again. This is a get-away game - the Astros head to Canada - as they play for their third 4-game series sweep of the season.
Dallas Keuchel (7-1, 1.76) versus Wei-Yin Chen (1-4, 3.21)
Keuchel was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for the second straight month.
2 Eastern, 1 Central.