Saturday, July 4, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G82: Astros in Boston

Dan Straily (0-0, 0.00) versus Justin Mastersen (3-2, 5.58)

The Astros rolled into Boston after winning four in a row (sweeping the Royals, and levelling the series against the Yankees with a win in the last game of that series) and managed to take the game in an offensive slugfest by a score of 12 to 8.  Only they didn't really win, because Boston played with spunk, and therefore take the Moral Victory, and now that tomorrow's starter is Clay Buchholtz, who has recently been promoted to The Stopper, the Astros will definitely lose the series 2-1.  They are lucky to have won this game, according to the hordes of Professional Sports Writers who hang around the mighty Boston side, and assign Reasons Why They Win (even when they don't) to every single activity they do.  Forget that the Astros had their tenth different starting pitcher for the season going - a guy who last pitched in the majors in 2014, and who had a FOUR digit ERA (11.85) - who was stepping in because Brett Oberholtzer officially Lost His Mind, after he was knocked around by the Yanks six days ago.  Anyhow, the Red Sox had one of their Awesome Offseason Signings pitching in opposition, whereas the Astros had some AAAA waiver bait on the mound, and somehow the Red Sox lost, but at least they Showed Some Spunk when it mattered, and the Astros are now toast for the rest of the series.

Of course, the irony is that the play of the game was when David Ortiz was going to be thrown out by eight yards and refused to duck or peel off going into second base.  So Jose Altuve's throw to first on a double play (which would have been in plenty of time) nailed him in his helmet and disappeared into the grandstand.  That killed the DP, and scored Bogaerts from third and Han-Ram got to head to second base, and he scored when Pablo Sandoval overcame some lefty-on-lefty violence (he isn't switch hitting anymore) to tie the game.  Those two runs were the only reason that the Red Sox even got to extra innings, but hey, the fact that every other major league player is peeling off when he is thrown out by one-third of the distance between the bases is a minor detail that we don't need to traverse when the Red Sox are Showing Some Spunk.  Holy Cow.

Anyhow, resuming normal transmission, the Astros won in extras by a score of 12-8.  How did it happen??  Check below:

On the Mound:
Dan Straily made his season debut, and despite conceding a bunch of runs, he didn't get lit up.  He was a little unlucky to give up the four earned runs (five actual runs) that he was credited with.  However, the Red Sox got to him early, ran up his pitch count, and exited him before the he got to the fifth frame.  He walked three and stuck out seven, allowing six hits, so he wasn't anywhere near dominant.

Straily opened fairly strongly, giving up only a single to Brock Holt! (perhaps a relative of Steve Holt!)in the first inning.  In the second inning, Han-Ram led off with a giant home run - estimated at close to 420 feet - before Straily rebounded to get the next two outs.  But then he walked ex-White Sox and Oriole Alejandro De Aza, who eventually came around to score on two singles.  Brock Holt! grounded out for the third out.

Straily walked around a full-count walk of David Ortiz in the third, and set the side down in order in the fourth with two strikeouts.  He entered the fifth with a 5-2 lead - at the time, I thought that if he could get through the order one more time, then the Astros would have the game close to sewn up.  But he wasn't able to do it - a one-out walk to Brock Holt!, then a single to Xander Bogaerts put runners on the corners with one out.  David Ortiz singled to CF on the first pitch.  That put runners in the corners again with one out, with Han-Ram at the plate.

The play is detailed above, but essentially, Ramírez grounded to third on a tailor made double-play ball.  Valbuena gave it to Altuve in plenty of time, Altuve fired to first again in plenty of time, but Ortiz was out by five yards, and instead of accepting this, he jumped up to drop into his slide, and the ball caromed off his head, into the stands.  Ramírez was awarded second on the carom, and he scored when Tony Sipp - in relief of Dan Straily - caught waaaaay too much of the plate on a 2-1 pitch, and Sandoval singled into the RF-CF gap.  Sipp bounced back to get Mike Napoli out swinging for the third out.

Sipp pitched the sixth, allowing only a two-out single to Mookie Betts.  Sipp seems to have been demoted to the second lefty in the 'pen, and I thought he was missing with his pitches tonight.  He seems to be getting into more deep counts than he has been when he was pitching well, and it is possible that he is reverting to his replacement-level ways.  Anyhow, Josh Fields got the seventh - talk about struggling lately - Fields went and loaded the bases with no outs.  He allowed a Bogaerts single up the middle to CF, then an Ortiz walk, then a walk to Han-Ram, which included a couple of generous called strikes that were off the plate.  Not the thing to do when you have a 7-5 lead, and sure enough, the lead evaporated, not that Fields was on the mound to see it.  Joe Thatcher was called on to get Pablo Sandoval, but for the second time in the game, the no-longer-switch-hitting Sandoval singled against a lefty from the left side, scoring Bogaerts and re-loading the bases.  Will Harris relieved Thatcher, and he got Napoli on a perfect 1-2 curveball down the middle of the plate before enticing De Aza into an awkward grounder up the middle that Correa was unable to manufacture into a double-play.  That tied the game at 7-7.

Pat Neshek got the eighth, and he entered with an 8-7 lead.  Mookie Betts took first leading off on an error by Carlos Correa, who failed to transfer the ball between glove and throwing-hand behind second base.  Brock Holt! sac-bunted him to second, then, in a giant brain-freeze, Betts tried to steal third.  Jason Castro's throw was right on the money, and Betts slid right into Valbuena's tag.  He was out by a foot, and Castro again executed the play perfectly.  Betts' error was magnified when Xander Bogaerts walked, then David Ortiz's double off the Green Monster took a very fortunate bounce off the top of the scoreboard, which delayed the ball coming down.  That, in turn, delayed the play home, and the game was tied again.

Roberto Hernández pitched the ninth in a tied game, and he set the side down in order.  Luke Gregerson entered the game with a 4-run lead, and he allowed no suspense in facing only three batters.  A rare blow-up for the Astros' pen, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks in five-and-one-third.  Must have been all that spunk shown by the Red Sox.

At the Plate:
Preston Tucker walked on four pitches with one out in the first, but he didn't advance.  The side went in order in the second, and a Castro leadoff walk then a Tucker two-out single punctuated a scoreless third.  In the fourth, the Astros scored five runs.  Luis Valbeuna hit a line-drive into the RF-CF gap, then Evan Gattis hit a hard single the other way (the pitch was a fastball off the plate away).  That put runners on the corners, and Jon Singleton hit what looked like a tailor-made double-play ball... but he beat the throw to first to score the run, and record only one out in the play.  After a hard-hit out to Chris Carter (the second of the inning), the Astros strung five hits and a walk together: Jason Castro doubled on a fastball away to the Green Monster, Alex Presley grounded one up the middle, Jose Altuve singled to left field, Preston Tucker hit another one off the Green Monster (scoring Presley from second and Altuve from first), then Carlos Correa grounded a relatively routine play to Xander Bogaerts, who muffed it, but it was scored a single.  Luis Valbuena reached for the second time in the inning on a walk, then Evan Gattis grounded out for the third out.  Astros 5, Red Sox 2.

The Astros went in order in the fifth against reliever Tommy Layne.  They had runners on first and second with no outs (Presley and Altuve singled) in the sixth, then Matt Barnes relieved Layne, and he struck out the side.  Barnes came out to start the seventh, and he allowed a lead off double to Evan Gattis - he split the RF-CF gap perfectly, and the ball went all the way to the wall.  Barnes got Singleton to pop up (after throwing him a couple of hittable pitches) then Chris Carter fought a 2-2 pitch on the inside margin of the plate off into shallow RF that the hard-charging De Aza was unable to corral.  That put runners on the corners with one out, then Jason Castro walked on five pitches, loading the bases.

Alex Presley and Matt Barnes then went at it for eight fascinating pitches before Presley struck out on a low slider away.  Presley had a solid night and proved to be a tough out in a bunch of at-bats.  But Jose Altuve picked him up with a single up the middle that scored two runs.  The hit was on a soft line-drive just out of the reach of a diving Bogaerts, and it scored the lumbering Evan Gattis and Chris Carter, so it wasn't hit that hard.  That gave the Astros a 7-5 lead, which they promptly blew courtesy of Josh Fields.

Entering the eighth, the Astros were tied... for one pitch.  Carlos Correa hit the first pitch of the frame off the sign above the Green Monster that is located most toward CF.  It was a deep drive to one of the deeper parts of the ballpark -  a very impressive shot.  That put the Astros up 8-7, but they blew that lead as well, entering the tenth inning in an 8-8 tie.

Jose Altuve led off with a HBP - in much the same area that he was hit two days ago, but on his left elbow, rather than his right elbow.  Preston Tucker then pulled a hard-hit ball to the right side, right at Mike Napoli, and he let the ball go between his legs, allowing Tucker to reach.  Altuve was hung out to dry - Napoli had been holding him on, and had he corralled the ball, Altuve would have been toast.  But instead it was runners on first and second, with no outs.  Carlos Correa then gave the Astros the lead for the second time with a line-drive over the third-baseman toward the LF corner, and Jose Altuve scored.  With one out, Domingo Santana (a defensive replacement for Evan Gattis) singled to third base to load the bases (Sandoval had to leave his feet to make the play, and he had no throw) before Jon Singleton pulled a line-drive to RF to plate two - his first two RBI's of 2015.  Singleton then stole second, allowing Domingo Santana to steal home to score the 12th run of the game for the Astros, and secure the win.

Every Astro had a hit tonight.  On base four times was Jose Altuve (3-5, HBP) and on base three times was Preston Tucker (2-5, BB, 2B), Carlos Correa (3-6, HR) and Jason Castro (1-4, 2B, 2xBB).  On base twice was Alex Presley (2-5), Luis Valbuena (1-5, BB) and Evan Gattis (2-4, 2B).  Domingo Santana (SB), Jon Singleton (SB) and Chris Carter all had one hit.

Turning Point:
Alex Presley and Jose Altuve really worked Matt Barnes over in the seventh inning.  Barnes had entered in the sixth, and struck out the side with runners on first and second.  He came out for the second, and promptly allowed a double off the bat of Evan Gattis, then a one-out single off the bat of Chris Carter.  Jason Castro walked to load the bases, then Alex Presley set about getting the go ahead run to the plate.  He failed, but had a quality at-bat, and perhaps that helped Jose Altuve, who hit a line-drive single into CF with two outs to plate two.

Man of the Match:
Hard to go past Carlos Correa... but I am going to.  Jose Altuve went 3-5 at the plate, but not included in that is another HBP.   He scored three runs, and did well out of the lead-off spot vacated by the injured George Springer.  An on-form Jose Altuve in the lead-off slot would do a lot to soothe the loss of Springer.

Goat of the Game:
Pretty obvious this one.  Josh Fields - who has been solid so far this season - had a nightmare outing. His second in a row.  He allowed one hit and walked two, and he looked like he was again struggling with his command.  Deep counts are not a good thing for him, and he got into plenty tonight.

Up Next:
Happy July 4, everyone.

Collin McHugh (9-3, 4.51) versus The Stopper, Clay Buchholz (6-6, 3.48)

1:35 Eastern, 12:35 Central.