Collin McHugh (7-3, 5.04) versus C.J. Wilson (5-5, 3.39)
After losing the first game of the series thus neutralising a late comeback attempt, the Astros went all whoop-ass on the Angels today, breaking out the bats in a 13-3 win. Collin McHugh made a triumphant return to form with 8 solid innings (although he still didn't look as impressive as he did last year), and the Astros made the clutch plays early, and added on after they exposed the underbelly of the bullpen to avenge last nights' loss. They secured at least a split on the latest road trip, and get a chance at taking a crucial series from the Angels tomorrow in the rubber game.
On the Mound:
This one is all about Collin McHugh, who had a solid night, and provided the bullpen with a nice rest, going the deepest into the game that an Astros pitcher has for a while. His final line was a solid 8 innings pitched (114 pitches), 10 baserunners (9 hits and a walk), six strikeouts and two earned runs. If I were to be critical - and really, he held down a reasonable offence for most of the night - he is still having a little bit of trouble getting batters to fish at his breaking pitches, and I gained the impression that he got behind in the count a fair bit tonight (33 batters, 21 first pitch strikes doesn't really support my impression).
McHugh entered the first inning with another 1-0 lead, and started wonderfully, striking out lead off hitter Johnny Giavotella on three pitches. But Kole Calhoun singled against the shift to CF on the next pitch, then Mike Trout took an 2-1 inside fastball and grounded it just fair down the third base line for a double. The Astros IBB'd Albert Pujols to load the bases, then David Freese grounded a 2-0 cut fastball to Carlos Correa for a tailor-made 6-4-3 twin killing.
The Astros added on in the second frame (see below) so McHugh had the luxury of being aggressive in the bottom half of the frame. He set the side down in order, on 8 pitches. Efron Navarro singled to left field leading off the third, but he was unable to advance as McHugh struck out Giavotella and Trout (Calhoun flew out in between the K's) to end the frame.
The Angels scored all their runs off McHugh in the fourth. Albert Pujols led off with a single to shallow CF, then Erick Aybar singled to RF with one out, sending Pujols to second. Matt Joyce struck out for the second out before catcher and ex-Stro Carlos Pérez singled off McHugh's glove to load the bases. Efron Navarro, who had some good at-bats tonight, singled on a grounder through the right side on a cutter that was meant to be down and away, but caught a little much of the plate. Two runs scored. The next batter grounded out to short in an impressive bit of fielding from Carlos Correa - he stretched for the grounder and unleashed a quick throw to first base on the run.
So the Angels narrowed the game from 7-0 to 7-2, and for a while, it looked like a good inning would get them back into it. But the Astros immediately got those two runs back. McHugh responded by setting the side down in order in the fifth (including a strikeout of Mike Trout) and allowing only a lead-off single in the sixth. The Angels made five lineup changes after the sixth frame - reminding me of a spring training game - and McHugh faced one over the minimum in the seventh and eighth, giving up only one single.
Roberto Hernández got the ninth inning, and he set the first two batters down in order, before allowing a single to Efron Navarro and an RBI double to Johnny Giavotella, allowing the Angels' third run on two hits.
At the Plate:
This may take a while. The Astros scored in the first inning after a Carlos Correa one-out single to left field. He advanced on a wild pitch, and was balked to third during the same at-bat. Jose Altuve struck out on a breaking ball down - very un-Altuve-like to initially strand Correa at third. The next batter was Evan Gattis, and he took an inside fastball and lined it into the left field corner for a double. Colby Rasmus then bunted against the shift before Chris Carter got just under one and hit it a high fly ball to the warning track in CF.
The big inning in the game was the second. With one out, Luis Valbuena reached on an infield single to his counterpart at third base before Handsome Hank Conger lined one off the end of the bat through the right side of the infield. Springer struck out for the second out. Carlos Correa worked the count to 3-2 before C.J. Wilson left a breaking pitch elevated and on the inner third, and Correa pounded it deep to left field for a three-run shot. The ball went 25 rows back into the bleachers, about 10 yards fair. It was a no doubt shot off the bat - a very impressive bit of hitting.
That took the lead to 4-0. Chris Carter wore a pitch on the bat foot for the only action of the third frame before the Astros put up another crooked number in the fourth. Luis Valbeuna led off with a home run - and belt-high fastball that Valbeuna turned on and hammered 10 rows back over the RF power alley. With one out, Springer walked and Correa doubled him to third - this was a line drive toward the line in LF, but really should only have been a single. Springer dug for third, and Correa was awarded a double.
C.J. Wilson's last play of the ballgame was to put Jose Altuve on via the intentional walk to load the bases with one out. That brought Gattis up against Cam Bedrosian, pitching in relief of Wilson. Gattis lined the second pitch he saw down the RF line, and Calhoun made a nice running catch. Springer scored on the sac-fly and Correa advanced to third. Correa scored four pitches later on a wild pitch that Carlos Pérez was unable to corral as it passed him about 6 feet off the ground.
But the Astros, who were leading 7-0 at this stage, weren't finished. After the Angels cut the deficit to 7-2, Chris Carter walked leading off the frame. Luis Valbuena homered for the second time in the game, and the 19th of the season. It was a high fly ball that just snuck out inside the RF foul pole - Kole Calhoun wound up in the stands trying to make the play. In the next inning, Jose Altuve singled leading off, Colby Rasmus singled with one out, then Domingo Santana popped it into the Bemuda Triangle just behind first base for a double that scored Altuve. Rasmus came home when the throw back into the infield got away from Erick Aybar. They added two more in the ninth - Chris Carter led off with a double and went to third on a Domingo Santana single with no outs. Handsome Hank singled Carter in with one out, then Carlos Correa grounded into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded and one out to score Santana. The Angels muffed a double play, so Correa was awarded an RBI.
Three players had three hits tonight. Carlos Correa fell a triple short of the cycle (the Constable would make a joke about being one lady short of a threesome here) going 3-6 with a double and a big three run home run (same link, but worth looking at twice). Luis Valbuena went 3-5 with two home runs, driving in three. Hammerin' Hank went 3-5. Colby Rasmus went 2-4, Domingo Santana went 2-5 with a double, Chris Carter went 1-3 with a double, a walk and a HBP, and Jose Altuve went 1-3 with a walk.
The Angels, trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the second, loaded the bases with one away. Collin McHugh got David Freese to swing at a 2-0 cutter, grounding it to Correa, who flipped it to Altuve to start the double play. Approximately ten minutes later, Carlos Correa pounded a hung slider to left field for a no doubt shot, estimated at 441 feet.
Man of the Match:
Tempted to go with Correa here, but Luis Valbeuna had a monster game. His .195/.269/.456 line is a fascinating one. He leads the team with 19 home runs, and is second in the league ahead of Mike Trout, behind only Albert Pujols in the AL.
Goat of the Game:
It would not be fair to give a goat with the Astros scored 13 runs and won. So no goat.
Rubber game of the series.
Lance McCullers (3-2, 2.45) versus Matt Shoemaker (4-5, 5.20)
Depending which Lance McCullers turns up, I like this matchup for the Astros.
3:30 Eastern, 2:30 Central.
At the conclusion of this game, the Astros fly home to meet the Yankees in a three game set.