Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.38) versus Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 5.36)
Scott Kazmir started his Astros career about as strongly as you could on a hot night in Kansas City. The Astros scored early, pressed most of the game, and came out winners by a score of 4-0. Texas won - keeping pace with the Astros - but they beat the Angels, who now slip back into a virtual tie with the Astros atop the AL West. However, the Angels have won one less game, and lost one less game, so they lead the division by 0.002 percentage points over the 'stros.
On the Mound:
We all knew that Scott Kazmir was pretty good - after all, he has a career 3-1 record and a 2.72 ERA against the Astros - but he started his Astros career about as well as he could. I was watching the game on TV, and the first noticeable thing is how everyone looked hot and bothered. Kazmir looked like he was wilting a bit in the heat, and he certainly lost control of some pitches at times. But he kept his pace deliberate, was efficient with pitches when able, and went seven scoreless innings against a solid offensive unit (albeit one that isn't great against lefties). In those seven frames, he allowed 3 hits, walked one, and stuck out three.
Kazmir started by pounding the strike zone in the first. He threw seven pitches in that inning, allowed a lead-off single on the first pitch, and retired next three batters in order. All seven pitches were strikes. He retired the first batter of the second inning on two more consecutive strikes, so the first ball he threw was on the tenth pitch of the game. The Kansas City lineup was retired in order in both the second and third innings, with the third inning notable for another quick frame - 7 pitches. Some solid defensive plays (especially by Marisnick and Correa) were made behind him.
The first real trouble that Kazmir encountered was in the fourth inning. Mike Moustakas reached on a leadoff single to CF, and with one out, Eric Hosmer walked on a full-count pitch (after being ahead 3-0). The second out was a fly out - reasonably deep - and the Moose advanced to third. With runners on the corners, Kazmir was able to coax Alex Rios into a fly ball to CF, which Marisnick gloved without problem.
The last baserunner that Kazmir allowed was a lead off single in the fifth. That runner didn't advance as Kazmir struck the next two hitters out. He retired the side in order in the sixth (on 8 pitches) and seventh frames. His night ended at 91 pitches - the heat was probably the biggest factor in that decision.
Chad Qualls - the excellent version - entered the game in the eighth, and he struck out two in a perfect frame. Tony Sipp got the assignment for the ninth - he had a four run lead - but he walked the lead off hitter (and lefty) Moustakas before recording an out on a fly out to CF. Eric Hosmer then reached on a slow bouncer back up the middle that Correa gloved and tried to throw for the force on the run. The throw was wide, and rebounded back into play off the fence - Moustakas took third successfully, and Hosmer had started toward second, but he realised that he was toast because of the friendly rebound of the ball. Chris Carter chased him down the line, then flipped the ball to Altuve functioning as the other bookend in the rundown, but no one was covering first (Sipp was covering home) and Hosmer got back to first without being tagged.
With runners on the corners Hinch went to Gregerson to close the game down, and he did so with a 5-4-3 double-play grounder to the first batter he faced (Kendrys Morales). That killed the drama. Gregerson's pitches have a lot of downward movement at the moment, and Morales looked a little overmatched during that at bat.
At the Plate:
The Astros had the Royals starter, Jeremy Guthrie, in trouble early in the night, but they simply were not able to put him away. Preston Tucker singled with one out in the first, but he did not advance. Valbuena walked with one out in the second, and he went to third on a two-out Jason Castro single, but Handsome Jake struck out to end the frame. The Astros then managed two runs in the third. After Jose Altuve grounded out to second base leading off, Preston Tucker continued his hot streak by mashing a hung changeup away to RF for a solo shot. Guthrie missed up, and Tucker was caught slightly out in front, but he barrelled it to his pull side, and it cleared the wall by plenty.
The Astros didn't stop there in the third. Carlos Correa - the next hitter - walked, then Evan Gattis sent him to third base with a single to CF. Colby Rasmus drove Correa in with a dunk single into shallow RF - he was jammed on a pitch up and in, but good enough to get it into RF for a single and an RBI. Valbuena and Singleton went in order to strand two runners.
The Astros' other scoring inning was in the fourth. Handsome Jake lined a fastball away to deep RF for a double with one out. He stole third, then Jose Altuve singled him home on an infield single - a fisted bloop just over a drawn-in infield. Both the radio and TV commentators pointed out that if Marisnick doesn't steal third, the infield doesn't come in, and that bloop doesn't drop. The pitch was up and way in, and Altuve thought he had popped out before realising the ball had a chance to drop.
Then the TOOTBLAN's began. The next batter was Preston Tucker, and he doubled to LF over the head of Paulo Orlando. Gary Pettis sent Altuve home around third, but the relay was perfect. Altuve was tagged, and never even touched the plate. So the Astros lose another run to aggressive baserunning - seems to have been a spate of them lately. I don't necessarily think that they should be conservative in their baserunning, but there is a real cost when runners are lost at third and at the plate.
Anyhow, Tucker was standing on second, and he scored when Carlos Correa lined one into CF just past the diving shortstop Escobar. The pitch was a fastball, and was low and inside. The Evan Gattis singled to put runners on the corners, but Colby Rasmus flew out to LF to end that frame.
The next baserunner was Handsome Jake. He singled leading off the sixth, but was promptly picked off in another TOOTBLAN. He was initially ruled safe, but the Royals challenged, and the call was overturned. After Marisnick was picked off, the next 11 Astros went in order, but they had already scored enough for Kazmir to earn the win, and the game was done.
The hits were again clustered to the top and bottom of the order. Of the first four hitters, Preston Tucker was the star - he went 3-5, with a double and a home run. Altuve went 1-5 with an RBI, Correa went 1-3 with a walk, and Gattis went 2-4. Colby Rasmus went 1-4 with an RBI from the 5-hole. At the bottom of the order, Jason Castro went 1-4, and Handsome Jake went 2-4 with a double and a stolen base, and was the victim of a pickoff.
After Preston Tucker's solo shot, the Astros kept the pressure on with a walk, and and two singles. That scored another run, and forced the Royals to make pitches to get out of the frame. The Astros would have loved to have managed another couple of hits and knocked Guthrie out of the game, but they weren't quite able to do that. Still, 4-0 win was enough to catch the Angels.
Man of the Match:
Sorry, Preston Tucker. Finishing a single short of the cycle is like being a girl short of a threesome, as the Constable is fond of saying. This one goes to Scott Kazmir. He fired seven scoreless on a tough night weather-wise, and only went 91 pitches in the process, keeping some powder dry for his next start. Impressive Astros debut, and one that eases the sting of losing The Sheriff to the A's.
Goat of the Game:
Gary Pettis. Again.
Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.93) versus Danny Duffy (4-4, 4.24)
Duffy is a lefty, and Hoes is in Fresno, so I am guessing that Carter and González get the start on the infield corners, and Tucker-Marisnick-Rasmus get the outfield assignments. Unless Santana gets called up tomorrow. Conger should start behind the plate - he has been in solid offensive form recently.
7 Eastern, 6 Central.