The Astros renew their odd-year rivalry with the Colorado Rockies, and in doing so, welcome ex-Stros Brandon Barnes and LaTroy Hawkins back into town. Jordan Lyles would / may have made the trip as well, but he is out for the season after a wee operation so he won't take the field in a playing capacity.
Also welcoming the Rockies was George Springer, who had himself a ball game. The Astros jumped on the Rockies early, had enough of a cushion for when Keuchel was BABIP'd out of the game in the middle innings, and held on late for a solid, series opening win. For the third time in the last four games, the Astros threw up a crooked number in the first inning, and in doing so seem to have stabilised their season after hitting a rough patch against the suddenly awesome Toronto and the Lefty Starters of Doom that the White Sox booked to face the Astros.
Astros win, 6-3
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel got the start, and he threw a tandem starters' perfect game. For the second straight day, the Astros had a starter throwing a no-hitter through five. Keuchel's bid for perfection ended with a lead-off walk in the sixth inning, and his no hitter ended with the next batter. Both runners ended up scoring later in the inning after a wonderful defensive play from George Springer was made for the second out, but Springer was unable to come through for the second time with two outs (this time running toward the RF gap), and the ball squirted behind him. Rasmus was perfectly positioned, and he stopped the second runner for scoring. The next batter singled to left, so that runner scored anyhow, so the Astros ended the sixth inning with a 5-2 lead.
Keuchel started the seventh frame with another lead-off walk. A fielders choice, then a grounder to first left the Rockies with a runner on second, and Nick Hundley doubled down the line to chase that runner in, and end Keuchel's night. At that point, the score was 5-3 Astros, so Hinch called on Joe Thatcher, who retired the only batter he faced (lefty Charlie Blackmon) for the final out of the frame.
Prior to the sixth inning, Keuchel was dominant. Three grounders in the first, and the side went in order. A fly out and two grounders in the second. Another grounder with a strikeout in the third. Two grounders and a strikeout in the fourth preceded two more groundouts and a strikeout in the fifth. Keuchel's final line involved 106 pitches for three runs (all earned) on 4 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.
Pat Neshek struck out one in a scoreless eighth, and Luke Gregerson worked around a single and an error (Carter booted a grounder) to end the game on a double-play grounder back to the mound. Another solid effort from the 'pen, combining for 2.1 innings of 1 hit scoreless ball.
At the Plate:
The Astros again started fast, with George Springer ambushing Chad Bettis with a bloop-ish hit off the end of the bat that dropped into right field on the first pitch he saw. Carlos Correa followed with a solid single through the 5.5 hole that put runners on first and second with no outs. Preston Tucker then snuck a grounder through the right side that scored Springer from second - another solid hit that happened to find an infield hole. Bettis bounced back to strike out Gattis for the first out with runners on the corners.
The big blow of the night was from Colby Rasmus, who jumped on a low fastball thrown on a 2-2 count. He drove it deep to RF, into the back of the bullpen. Steve Sparks - who sounded a little sick - uttered the following immortal dairy-themed line:
"Bettis tried to sneak a piece of cheese past Colby"That scored the second, third and fourth runs of the frame with only one out. Chris Carter and Luis Valbuena valiantly tried to add to the score, but both were victims of the right field fence, caught on the warning track.
In the next frame, the Astros added to the lead. George Springer took a 2-out, 2-1 hanging slider that caught the middle of the plate, and he drove it out into the Crawford Boxes. Two more batters (Correa and Tucker) worked excellent at-bats to try and extend the inning (a single up the middle and a walk).
More baserunners in the third - a Carter walk with one out and a González single with two outs put runners on the corners, but Jason Castro struck out on a high fastball to end the frame. Bettis bounced back to retire the Astros in order in the fourth and fifth innings, and Christian Friedrich relieved and rudely struck out the side in order in the sixth. Friedrich's pitches seemed to jump out of his hand, and the Astros swung and missed seven times out of nine strikes that he threw.
When they started the bottom half of the seventh inning, the Rockies trailed by only two runs. The Astros immediately struck back - George Springer led off with an opposite field home run into the Astros' bullpen off ex-Stro LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins throw a fastball away but elevated it, and Springer drove it on a line into the bullpen. The Astros added two more baserunners on another Correa single (a bloop job into right) and a Rasmus walk, but they failed to score. The side went in order in the eighth.
Strong nights from George Springer and Carlos Correa - both going 3-4. Springer had two home runs. Preston Tucker - batting third - went 1-3 with a walk, as did Colby Rasmus (batting fifth). Chris Carter walked once in an 0-3 night, and Marwin González went 1-4.
Colby Rasmus mashed another long home run in the first inning with runners on the corner. Chad Bettis quickly put Rasmus into an 0-2 hole, then Rasmus took two pitches for balls to even the count. The fateful pitch was a fastball in the middle-third of the plate, but at the knees. Rasmus dropped the head on it, and the ball was goneburger as soon as it left the bat. That put the Astros up by four, and out of the reach of the Rockies.
Man of the Match:
George Springer made two diving plays in RF - one hurtling toward the stand with runners on first and second with one out to save some serious runs from scoring - and hit two home runs. He had three hits, scoring every time he reached base. He has earned the MoTM-y, and his heating up is a welcome development for the Astros.
Goat of the Game:
Jason Castro had a solid game defensively, but he went 0-4 with 2K. If catcher defence is worth something to you, then Evan Gattis - who went 0-4 with one K - could alternatively earn the goat.
On the Morrow:
Can't wait for this one. Vincent Velasquez (0-0, 0.00) makes his home debut against lefty Chris Rusin (2-1, 3.38)
This game is an afternoon game, because both teams board a flight to Colorado for a two-game set there. Domingo Santana has been called up, replacing Colby Rasmus who will be attending his Grandmother's funeral. Hopefully Santana gets a chance to drop his strikeout rate below 80%, and I imagine that he could get the start in an all-righty outfield tomorrow.
2 Eastern, 1 Central.