Friday, July 31, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G103: Astros versus Angels

Matt Shoemaker (5-7, 4.55) versus Scott Kazmir (6-5, 2.24)

Well, Astros fans, it is hard not to be a little cock-a-hoop after the kind of day the Astros had.  They consummated a big trade just before they swept their division rivals out of town after being down to their last strike.  The product of their last big trade was a vital factor, but even more vital was was power that the Astros are capable of, right throughout the order.  Tonight, it was Jason Castro who drove a walk-off three-run shot into the RF bleachers to end the game, and put a large exclamation point on a solid post-All Star Break half of July.  The second walk off home run that resulted in a sweep inside of a week.

Astros 3, Angels 0

On the Mound:
This game recap may not take long, mostly because nothing happened until the ninth frame.  Both starters dominated their respective lineups, with Scott Kazmir - one half of The Brothers K (thanks, Constable) - throwing 7-and-two-thirds of shutout, three hit, three walk, five strikeout ball.  One Angel baserunner progressed past second base, and in only one inning did the Angels have two baserunners on at the same time.

In the first, Kazmir struck out Victorino before walking Mike Trout with two outs.  Albert Pujols grounded out to third to finish the frame, where Jed Lowrie was stationed.  Lowrie threw across to another out-of-place corner infielder, Luis Valbuena, to finish the play and the half inning.  In the second, Lowrie was in action again as Erick Aybar bunted one down the third-base line.  Lowrie raced in to make the play, but his throw was about a step-and-a-half too late, and Aybar had a lead off bunt single.  But the next three Angels were retired on fly outs as the top of the second drew meekly to a close.

The next baserunner that Kazmir allowed was a one out walk to Chris Ianetta in the fifth, and the next hit was a one out single to Calhoun in the sixth against the shift.  Neither runner advanced at all - Ianetta was erased on a slick fielder's choice from Altuve, and Calhoun was only able to watch as Mike Trout and Albert Pujols both fouled out to the right side.  Kazmir retired the Angels in order in the seventh, partly because of a marvellous diving play by a drawn-in Jed Lowrie on a hard-hit Aybar grounder down the line.  Lowrie was on the grass, Aybar hit it hard just to his right, and he made a sprawling save and strong throw, nailing the runner by two steps.  Kazmir's seventh was also remarkable for his second warning track fly-out of the night - this one was to LF in front of the out-of-town scoreboard to retire Chris Iannetta.

The eighth was the vital inning in the game for the Astros on the mound.  Johnny Giavotella singled up the middle leading off the frame.  Taylor Featherston generously sacrificed himself via a bunt down the first base line - the Astros executed the wheel play well, with Valbuena making the play after crashing in.  Victorino then walked, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch that Kazmir spiked into the RH batter's box, and Castro was unable to corral.  But on the next pitch, Kole Calhoun tried to hold up on a high fastball, couldn't do so, and he struck out.

That ended Kazmir's night.  With Mike Trout up, Hinch opted to relieve with Pat Neshek.  Neshek worked Trout over, getting two strikes early, then evening the count at 2-2 before ending the frame with a high fastball away that Trout swung through.  That ended the threat for the Astros, and the Angels had squandered their last baserunner.

With a crisis narrowly averted, Luke Gregerson came on for the ninth.  Albert Pujols led off, and Gregerson wasted no time disposing of him, striking him out on three pitches.  The last of them was a tight slider in the dirt.  Erick Aybar fouled off a bunch before grounding back to the mound, and C.J. Cron flew out for the 27th Angel out of the night.  Solid bounce back from Gregerson, after a rough outing last night.

At the Plate:
Not much happened on the Astros' side of the ledger, either.  In the first inning, Carlos Correa singled, then went to second with Luis Valbuena walked.  But Lowrie, who may need a few more at-bats before fully regaining his timing, flew out to shallow LF to end the threat.  In the second, the Astros went in order, including a Chris Carter strikeout and a Jason Castro jam shot that was caught in shallow RF.  In the third, Jake Marisnick struck out looking on a fastball away - he looked perplexed as he wandered back to the dugout - but then Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch, and Preston Tucker singled up the middle to put two on with one out.  Carlos Correa struck out swinging on a fastball away, and Luis Valbuena grounded one down the RF line that Pujols made a nice play on.

In the fourth, Rasmus mashed a line drive up the middle, but his steal of second was overturned when Chris Carter was ruled to have impeded the catcher.  The Astros went in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh, as Matt Shoemaker looked more like he did last year, and much less like he did last time the Astros faced him in May.  He was aggressive pitching inside with his fastball tonight, and he looked to have some giddyup on his pitches, judging by the number of times the Astros were late on his fastball.

Joe Smith relieved Shoemaker to start the eighth, and Marisnick responded by grounding the second pitch of his at-bat to shortstop.  Erick Aybar very briefly bobbled the ball, and as a result, his throw was a fraction late.  Marisnick reached on an error, but he was promptly erased when Jose Altuve grounded a pitch that was ankle height back to the pitcher, who turned a slick double-play.  Preston Tucker followed with his second single of the night, but it was all for naught at Carlos Correa flew out to CF to end that inning.

But all of that was a preamble for the ninth inning.  Jose Álvarez got the call to open the frame, and he got two outs on a strikeout (of Valbuena), walk (Lowrie), fly-out (Rasmus) sequence.  Fernando Salas relieved with two outs and Lowrie on first, facing Marwin González, who had pinch hit for Chris Carter earlier in the game.  González kept the frame alive by taking an 0-2 fastball, and hitting a soft line drive into CF off the end of the bat.  Salas missed up a little in his location - had he buried it, González would have had no chance.  Lawrie advanced to second.

That brought Jason Castro to the plate.  On a 1-1 count, Castro swung through a fastball down the pipe.  Kind of how pitchers have been throwing cheese past Castro for the last 18 months.  On the next pitch, he tried to do the same, but he missed a little glove side, and Castro took a fastball in the down-and-in quadrant, and mashed a deep fly ball to RF.  The ball landed about three rows back, just to the RF side of the Astros' bullpen.  The whole place erupted, gallons of Gatorade were emptied on Castro, and the Astros had their second walk-off homer that resulted in a series sweep inside of 7 days.

Clearly, Castro had the big hit (1-4, HR), but also running the bases were Preston Tucker (2-4), Carlos Correa (1-4), Luis Valbuena and Jed Lowrie (both 0-3, BB), Colby Rasmus (1-4) and Marwin González (1-2).

Turning Point:
I like Neshek's strikeout of Mike Trout, right after Kazmir's strikeout of Kole Calhoun, and right before Gregerson's strikeout of Albert Pujols.  The Astros struck out the heart of the Angels order when they needed it.  Kazmir, with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth, set Calhoun up with a couple of breaking pitches before throwing an elevated fastball that he couldn't hold up on. Neshek got Trout up-and-away, after Trout had fouled off a couple of similar pitches.  Gregerson baited Pujols into swinging at a pitch in the dirt to strike him out.

Man of the Match:
Sorry, Skotty K, but Jason Castro wins the MoTM.  For obvious reasons.

Goat of the Game:
No goat.  Sweep.

On the Morrow:
Ex-Red Sock Rubby De La Rosa (8-5, 4.52) versus Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.54), who had his best outing of the season last time out.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.

Trade Deadline tomorrow, too.  The Astros will have to make some roster moves to get both Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers on the 25-man.  I predict that Deduno will head to the 60-day at some point, but not sure whether that is needed at the moment.  Gomez seems like a lock to straight replace Marisnick.  The Astros may trade a major-leaguer away to clear the logjam.