Collin McHugh (9-5, 4.50) versus Martín Pérez (0-0, 0.00)
Sorry, loyal readers, for my absence over the last fortnight. I have no excuse as dramatic as the Constable's, but rather an inevitable and totally foreseeable crunch was always coming for me at some time, and it arrived. Many of my learned colleagues embarked for the northern hemisphere to attend conferences, so I have been covering for them. Plus, things are either busy or quiet in healthcare, and they haven't been quiet to say the least. I have had little time for baseball - enough time to keep reading on what is happening, but no time to write anything, that is for sure, hence the apology.
Anyhow, I watched the Astros' lead in the AL West dwindle until they finally were knocked off their perch by the Angels. And as I am writing this, Mike Trout prevented the Astros from taking first place back by mashing a walk-off home run to the left of CF to break a scoreless tie against the Red Sox. So the Angels hold on to first place, but the Astros also won by a score of 3-2, breaking their six-game losing steak, and getting to 50 wins on the year. Thanks to Mike-frikking-Trout, they remain a half-game back of the Angels. Read on for the exciting recap:
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh got to open the "second half" of the season - something I commented on a few weeks ago - coming off an improved personal finish to the first half. Things hit a low point on June 13 (8 runs in 3 innings) against the Mariners, but since then he has allowed 3ER in 6IP, 2ER in 8IP, 1ER in 8IP, 4R/3ER in 5.1IP and 3ER in 7IP. He is yet to record a scoreless outing this year.
McHugh tiptoed around a scoreless outing for the first few frames. He was ably assisted by Rangers TOOTBLAN's, but a few more hard-hit balls, or an untimely extra-base hit could have derailed him early. In the first frame, McHugh retired Delino DeShields on a four-pitch strikeout. On the next pitch, Rougned Odor singled to CF, but Marisnick - running to his right - fired a solid throw to second, and Odor was tagged out stretching a singled into a double for the first TOOTBLAN. Hard-hit singles to Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltré and Mitch Moreland followed, but because Fielder is... um... no longer a fast runner, those three singles only loaded the bases for Josh Hamilton to ground out, ending the frame. Four singles, no runs scored - what an oddity.
In the second frame, McHugh enticed Elvis Andrus into a grounder to second which Altuve fielded, then drew Chris Carter off the bag with the throw. Adding to the anguish, Carter rolled his right ankle on landing, and was removed from the game prior to his first at-bat off the opposing lefty starter, Pérez. Andrus was on first, but was erased three pitches later on a Leonys Martín GIDP, and McHugh faced the minimum in the second when Robinson Chirinos grounded out to end the frame for the third out.
The next TOOTBLAN came in the third. Delino DeShield led off with a single to left field - he took a 2-2 breaking ball and put it into LF after fouling off four pitches. But he was the second out of the inning after he was off-and-running on a 2-1 pitch to Odor, who flew out to RF. DeShields didn't notice where the ball went, slid headfirst into second base as though he was stealing, and was doubled off first when Rasmus' throw to Singleton was right on target.
Entering the fourth, McHugh held a 3-0 lead, and he celebrated by striking out the side in 12 pitches. The victims were Moreland, Hamilton and Andrus. In the fifth, two one-out singles put runners on first and second before a fielder's choice put runners on the corners with two outs. Prince Fielder was the batter - having gone 2-2 to that point - by McHugh pitched him touch, and Fielder popped up down the 3B line, and Castro took the catch just foul half way between home and third.
The Rangers scored their only run off McHugh in the sixth - his final frame. Adrian Beltré reached on a hard-hit grounder up the middle. Correa, moving to his left, gloved it fine, but was off balance, and he lost the ball on the transfer. Mitch Moreland then singled to RF on a hit that bounced in front of home, over Singleton at first, and landed just fair. Beltré got a great jump and headed to third. When Moreland rounded first, Rasmus tried to throw behind him, possibly to nab him, but the ball hit Moreland because Singleton was behind him, and Beltré trotted home from third when it bounced toward the mound. It was not great luck for McHugh, but he got a serious break three pitches later when Josh Hamilton - in an 0-2 count - got very slightly under a high fastball and drove it to the RF wall. It missed going out by a foot, and Rasmus ended up taking a comfortable catch against the wall, very close to the yellow line. Hamilton missed tying the game by a tiny margin.
Will Harris got the seventh, and he allowed a two-out triple to the RF bullpen fence to Rougned Odor. Odor was stranded at third when Fielder grounded to short. In the eighth, Pat Neshek allowed a run on a one-out double off the wall in LF to Mitch Moreland (Tucker jumped, but couldn't make the play), then a two-out double to Andrus (Tucker jumped, but couldn't make the play) to the CF side of the Crawford Boxes. That allowed the Rangers to close to within a run.
Luke Gregerson got the ninth, and some drama happened when Rougned Odor grounded one up the middle with two outs. Gregerson is tall, and he jumped to make the play, but the ball bounced off his glove and ricocheted toward third base. Marwin González's throw to first was late. Gregerson made sure further drama didn't happen by retiring Prince Fielder on a hard hit grounder to shortstop - Correa made a solid play but spilled the ball, recovered, then fired a low throw to first, and Singleton made a fabulous scoop to end the game.
At the Plate:
Martín Pérez faced the minimum in the first despite walking Jose Altuve to lead off the game. Marwin González GIDP'd on a 2-2 pitch to erase Altuve. One run scored in the second - Evan Gattis led off with his customary triple to the right of CF - the pitch was an elevated breaking ball away and Gattis drove it to the right side of Tal's Hill. Martín had the ball bounce off his glove on the full, and that was enough for Gattis to gun for third. Next batter Colby Rasmus thought he walked on a 3-1 pitch, but it was called "lefty strike" (the pitch was at the knees and off the plate away), and he struck out on the next pitch for the first out. Jon Singleton (subbing in for Chris Carter) worked a walk on a full count, then L.J. Hoes - in his sixth plate appearance of the season - put a level swing on a fastball away, driving it to RF for a single, scoring Gattis. A Castro double-play ended the inning three pitches later.
In the third, the Astros added two more runs. Handsome Jake led off with a double to LF - aggressive baserunning and a slightly pulled throw allowed him to reach second. Jose Altuve took a 2-0 pitch, and he drove it to the warning track the other way. Josh Hamilton in RF was playing shallow, and the ball went over his head, scoring Marisnick and allowing Altuve to reach second. Still no outs, and when Marwin González singled to CF on a low line-drive, it looked like a big inning for the Astros. But Gary Pettis was not keen to allow the Rangers to corner the market on TOOTBLAN's, and he sent Altuve home despite (i) Altuve having to hesitate to ensure the line-drive wasn't snagged on the infield (ii) the CF Martín attacking the ball and (iii) Martín's solid arm. Altuve was out by a bunch, but González went to second on the throw, and he scored when Carlos Correa hit a considerably softer single to CF that Martín wasn't able to attack. Evan Gattis then singled - the fifth consecutive hit in the inning - but Colby Rasmus GIDP'd to end the frame.
That ended the scoring for the Astros. Jon Singleton singled on a blooper off the fists leading off the fourth, and was grounded over to third by the next two hitters. Marwin González singled with one out in the fifth. The side went in order in the sixth. Jason Castro walked leading off the seventh, and Colby Rasmus walked with two outs in the eighth. What the Astros did well was to cluster their extra-base hits leading off innings, and what they did badly was to only score two runs on five consecutive hits, largely thanks to a runner thrown out at home. A fourth run would have made the last hour of the game a whole lot less excruciating.
Jose Altuve (1-3, BB, 2B), Marwin González (2-4), Evan Gattis (2-4, 3B) and Jon Singleton (1-3, BB) all reached base twice. Handsome Jake had the remaining extra-base hit (1-2 with a double) and L.J. Hoes also went 1-2. Carlos Correa went 1-4, and Rasmus (0-3) and Castro (0-2) both walked.
The Astros needed to make a statement early and did so in the second inning. Evan Gattis was on third after another demonstration of his blazing speed, and Jon Singleton worked a solid walk (Colby Rasmus had also worked a solid walk, but the umpire spoiled that and called a pitch outside a strike). Anyhow, L.J.Hoes came up to the plate, and he put a nice level swing on a pitch away, lacing a line drive to RF. The Astros scored first, which is a good-luck charm for them, and they never trailed after that, breaking their six-game losing streak a couple of hours later.
Man of the Match:
Collin McHugh battled again today, eventually allowing one run and getting his tenth win. He gave up 11 hits in six innings, and his breaking stuff looked rolling (rather than sharp) at times. He escaped trouble once when Josh Hamilton drove it all the way to the right-field wall, but Rasmus made a nice catch. His final line of 6 innings pitched, 11 hits, 1 run/earned run and 4 strikeouts (no walks) is not dominant, but he kept the Astros in it, and restricted the number of runs he gave up with some tenacity and timely pitching. Now, how about a scoreless outing....
Goat of the Game:
Gary Pettis. If you know the name of the third-base coach, bad stuff has usually happened. Having runners thrown out at the plate is painful, and I hate it.
On the Morrow:
Colby Lewis (8-4, 4.77) versus Scott Feldman (4-4, 4.80).
Feldman returns from the meat wagon, having had his knee cartilage operated on. The Astros need a fresh and solid arm in the rotation. Feldman pitched twice in Corpus, giving up 4 earned runs in 8 innings, so I hope he has sharpened up since then. Colby Lewis has allowed 10 runs twice this year - most recent against the Angels on July 5, so this game could be over early if either team breaks out.
7 Eastern, 6 Central.