Colby Lewis (8-4, 4.77) versus Scott Feldman (4-4, 4.80).
The Astros and Rangers locked themselves in a tight affair that even had a bit of (melo) drama toward the end. Putting the last inning confrontation aside, this game was more of the same for the Astros - they got shut down by another righty pitcher who pounded the strike zone, changed speeds and varied locations, and didn't walk anyone. The book is out on the Astros now - throw quality strikes and mix it up a bit, and their lack of ability to put solid contact on the ball is going to hurt them. The same-ness of this lineup looks great on the occasion when they light up the opposition's pitching staff, but they can look awful the rest of the time.
Another major theme of this game was the overall fragility of the pitching staff. Scott Feldman tip-toed around trouble for a while, but was ultimately hindered by his inability to get swings and misses when he needed them. The Rangers passed up opportunities to get key hits early, then missed no opportunity to get key hits late. The Astros lost, 7-6.
What this game will be remembered for, however, was the benches clearing incident in the ninth inning. Rougned Odor, who had a banner game if you are a Rangers fan, got the best of the Astros by being a dick and taking his time getting into the batter's box leading off the frame. Hank Conger objected, they had a tête-á-tête at home plate. Prince Fielder intervened, and the benches cleared. Some interesting things happened afterward, including Fielder and Hinch in some kind of deep discussion, which ended when Fielder appeared to shove or hit at Hinch. Fielder's place was immediately taken by Jeff Banister, who continued the argument. Anyhow, after a delay, Fields resumed, and he seemed a little pumped up. He allowed a triple that went all the way to the top of Tal's Hill to Odor (who let the Astros know all about it as he was running down the first base line), and both he and Adrian Beltré eventually scored in the inning. The Astros got two back in the ninth on a Hank Conger opposite-field shot, but ultimately fell one shot of a much-wanted comeback.
On the Mound:
Scott Feldman battled all day, but ultimately was only ok. He went 5.2 innings, but gave up four runs on nine hits, with 2 walks and 2 home runs ruining his line. He struck out two.
Feldman was in trouble right away. After getting to 0-2 on Delino DeShields, he walked him with four pitches out of the zone. Rougned Odor laid down a sac-bunt to first, but no one covered first when Singleton broke in to field the ball, and it was scored a bunt single. Prince Fielder popped out on the next pitch. Beltré grounded into a fielder's choice to second, and Odor was forced out by a mile. However, he took the opportunity to slide wide of and past the base and take Altuve out anyhow. Altuve is a relaxed character, and he didn't respond with any anger, but the slide was average at best, and Odor would have been struggling to touch the base due to the width of his slide, and how far past the bag he slid. I was half expecting him to be the recipient of a rib-tickler later in the game as a result. Mitch Moreland ended the frame by grounding out with runners on the corners.
Shin-Soo Choo singled in the second with two outs. In the third, DeShields doubled off a grounder down the third base line - Valbuena was not covering the line, and he had no chance. Rougned Odor then deposited a hanging change off Feldman into the upper deck in RF - the TV guys called the shot very early because it was such a no doubter. Fielder popped one up into the Bemuda Triangle behind third for a single as the next batter, but Feldman set the next three down in order. The Astros trailed 2-0 at this point.
In the fourth, Choo bunted against the shift with one out for a base hit. He stole second, then Robinson Chirinos - he of the .216 average - walked. But the next two batters were sent down in order to end the frame.
The fifth was Feldman's strongest frame - he retired the side on seven pitches with two groundouts and a flyout. In the sixth, Josh Hamilton led off with a double into the RF corner, and after a sac-bunt, he scored on a sac fly to deep RF from Choo. Robinson Chirinos homered into the CF end of the Crawford Boxes for the second run of the inning (the pitch missed over the plate a little), and the Rangers led 4-0 at this point.
Tony Sipp retired the last hitter of the sixth, and he stayed on for the seventh, facing the minimum despite the leadoff hitter (Fielder) reaching on an error. Joe Thatcher opened the eighth, and he gave up a lead-off homer to Josh Hamilton, deep into the RF bullpen. After a single and a sacrifice, Chad Qualls took the mound, and he looked much better than he has recently in retiring the next two hitters in order.
The fateful inning was the ninth. After the brouhaha, Fields looked a little pumped up. He lost two fastballs arm-side and up, then bounced back to record a strike looking and a strike swinging. Odor was clearly looking fastball, and he got one that leaked back over the plate. The ball rolled to the top of Tal's Hill, Rasmus in CF did well to track it down, and Odor was held (just) to a triple.
For a while, Fields looked like he would get out of it. Fielder went down for the first out on a lovely curveball inside after having his bat sped up with inside fastballs. Beltré and Fields went at it for 8 pitches, with Beltré just managing to foul off some high fastballs before singling up the middle. Fields had trouble getting him to bite at the curveball. After a Mitch Moreland strikeout (he looked way overmatched), Josh Hamilton laced a double into the RF corner, scoring Beltré. That run ran the Rangers' tally to 7, and the Astros weren't quite able to come back.
At the Plate:
Familiar foe Colby Lewis set about shutting the Astros down early. Altuve singled leading off the game, stole second with one out, but was stranded there. Gattis' at-bat ended when he reached out for an elevated fastball in the LHH batters box - 6-8 inches off the plate - and popped out to first. Sigh. The Astros went in order in the second, and Jon Singleton reached on an infield single leading off the third - a hard-hit ball that Odor couldn't handle. The side struck out swinging in the fourth (Correa, Gattis and Valbuena), and was retired in order in the fifth on five pitches. Vast improvement in the sixth - they went in order on ten pitches. At this point, they trailed 4-0.
Finally, something happened in the seventh. Carlos Correa, leading off, worked the count to 2-2, and Colby Lewis was meant to throw a fastball off the plate and away. He missed arm-side-and-up, over the middle of the plate, and Correa pounded it to the CF side of the pump for a long home run.
In the eighth, the Astros drew to within one, mostly by stringing together two-out hits against an average Rangers bullpen. Jon Singleton singled to RF with one out, dunking a line-drive in front of Hamilton. Singleton was quickly erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Marwin González, who had pinch-hit for Handsome Jake. When Altuve doubled to the LF-CF gap on a hanging slider, González was safe at the plate by the slimmest of margins. The ball was fielded cleanly at the wall, the relay was perfect, and Chirinos blocked home plate with his knee when he had the ball. However, González's hand was ruled to have touched home right in front of Chirinos' knee pad, and the call stood after a five-and-a-half minute review.
Preston Tucker followed with a walk, then Carlos Correa shot a ground ball the other way for a single. Tucker went to third, and Altuve scored from second. Evan Gattis, up with runners on the corners, then grounded a full-count fastball to shortstop. Elvis Andrus came in to make a routine play, but the ball hit the edge of the grass and the dirt, kicked low and under his glove, and Tucker scored, with Correa going to third and Gattis heading into second. The Rangers brought in Houston native Sam Freeman for some lefty-on-lefty violence, and Hinch countered by getting L.J. Hoes to pinch hit, but he grounded it meekly back to the mound for the third out.
After the fracas in the ninth, the Astros trailed by 7-4. Colby Rasmus led off with a hard line-drive into the RF corner, then Hammerin' Hank Conger put together a good at-bat. He was quickly in a 1-2 hole, but when Shawn Tolleson missed glove-side-and-up with a fastball meant to be down-and-away, Hank hit a fly ball that made it (generously) into the second or third row of the middle of the Crawford Boxes. That two-run shot made the score 7-6, and it looked like the Astros had it in them to come back at that time.
However, Jon Singleton struck out, Marwin González grounded out, and Jose Altuve hammered one into the dirt that Adrian Beltré fielded easily, and threw him out for the last out of the game.
Three Astros had two hits (Altuve, 2-5, 2B; Correa 2-4, HR; Singleton 2-4). Colby Rasmus and Hank Conger both went 1-4, and both recorded an extra-base hit (2B and HR, respectively, both in the ninth inning). Also reaching base and scoring was Preston Tucker (0-3, BB).
Any of the Rangers' runs would have been the turning point, but I think that Adrian Beltré against Josh Fields in the ninth was as interesting moment as the game had. Fields hammered Beltré above the zone with fastballs that Beltré just managed to foul off. When Fields was unable to do anything but bounce his curveball, he eventually had to try and throw a strike, and when he missed in the zone with the eighth pitch of the at bat, Beltré was good enough to not try and do too much with it. He lined it up the middle, Odor scored, and the Rangers went on to tack on a seventh run, which proved to be the margin in the game.
Man of the Match:
Carlos Correa, for his Chris-Carter-esque home run in the seventh.
Goat of the Game:
Evan Gattis went 0-4. His at-bat in the first was awful. He saw five pitches, none were particularly close to the strike zone, but he managed to swing at two of them. One was a pitch down-and-away and in the dirt. The other was an elevated pitch in the left-handers batters' box - he popped that one up, and it was caught in foul ground near first base, stranding Altuve at second base.
The rubber game of the series features a stellar pitching matchup. Dallas Keuchel (11-4, 2.23) versus old foe Yovani Gallardo (7-8, 2.62). Gallardo has always been great against the Astros, and he has a 1.29 ERA in his last 10 starts. Keuchel needs no introduction.
2 Eastern, 1 Central.