Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.58) versus Aaron Brooks (1-0, 3.09)
The Astros arrived from Dallas having proved that they were not above gross offensive ineptitude. But not only where there difficulties on the offensive side of the plate, pretty much everything else went wrong as well. They literally look like genuine world series contenders inside the snug confines of Minute Maid, but at any other ballpark in the country, they seem to have looked like a AA team over the last month.
O.Co has been a happy hunting ground in 2015 - not so much in other years that the Astros have been in the AL West. The Astros swept the A's in the only series at O.Co this year - a three game sweep - so perhaps their road luck could be due to turn. The A's have traded some talent away, so perhaps they are also in a weakened state. That is what I was thinking, anyhow, in the lead up to this game. I like me some magical thinking, and occasionally it works.
Opening a four-game series is a great time to have a clutch win, and the Astros managed that tonight. The got a clutch lead, gave up a clutch lead with some un-clutch defence and pitching, then went to extras where they strung a couple of hits together to score in the tenth. The end result was a 5-4 win in 10 innings. How did it happen?? Read on...
On the Mound
Scotty Feldman got the start tonight, and he turned in a typical Feldman start. He left after six, mostly due to pitch count (113). He allowed 5 hits and two walks, and that resulted in 2 earned runs. He struck out three. Both runs were allowed on fly balls. They were on fly balls that went out of the park, however.
Feldman was solid in the first. He set the side down on nine pitches, in order. Much of that was due to a wonderful play from a shallow Jake Marisnick in left - he came in any dove on Billy Burns' soft liner, catching it in shallow left for the first out. Perfectly positioned, and well played. Feldman entered the second with a 1-0 lead (actually, he entered the first with a 1-0 lead) but with one out, Stephen Vogt crushed a pitch to straight-away CF for a no doubt home run, just to the left side of the batting eye and right over the 388 sign. The pitch was a low fastball that leaked a little back over the plate, and Vogt went down and got it, driving it deep to CF.
In the third, Eric Sogard hit a one-out double to the LF-CF gap. Marisnick was playing shallow, and he had to chase it all the way to the wall. Sogard couldn't advance, however, because Handsome Jake executed his revenge by ranging into foul ground to catch a pop up, and running toward the line to catch a Coco Crisp soft liner into left to record the last two outs. He was a busy lad that inning. The fourth inning was Feldman's turn to make a nice play - he ended the frame and set the side down in order by corralling a bouncing ball up the middle, thanks to his height and quick reactions.
Feldman entered the fifth with a 1-1 tie, and it didn't last long. On a 3-2 count, Feldman tried to sneak a low fastball past Brett Lawrie, and he hammered it to straightaway CF. The ball hit off the suites above the batting eye - this shot was estimated at 447 feet, and the pitch was probably not even in the strike zone. It was low, the second low pitch that was driven out tonight. Oh boy.
Feldman quickly found himself in trouble after that. Ike Davis walked, then Marcus Semien singled off Feldman's legs - the ricochet went all the way into foul ground on the third base side of the infield. That put runners on first and second with no outs, and when Eric Sogard climbed into one, mashing it to CF, and the outfield was playing shallow, runs looked nearly certain to score. Carlos Gómez, who has some serious outfield speed, ranged back and toward RF, and nearly overran the ball before making a stunning over-the-shoulder basket catch, heading away from home plate. It was a fabulous play - Ike Davis tagged and went to third, but no runs scored. If you watch the replay, I think the ball actually misses Gómez's glove, and he catches it more in his left wrist or elbow. Dunno. Anyhow, that saved the inning, as Billy Burns flew out to CF for the second out (Gómez's throw was wide, so if Davis had advanced, he would have scored) and Coco Crisp struck out on a full count after a seven-pitch at bat to end the frame.
More traffic in the sixth for Feldman - a walk to Country Breakfast with one out, and a two-out single to Brett Lawrie off the glove of Carlos Correa put runners on first and second, but Ike Davis went down swinging on a 2-2 fastball away to end the threat.
Chad Qualls had the assignment for the seventh, and he was more than up to the task. He set down the side in order on eight pitches, partly thanks to a running catch from Carlos Correa down the LF foul line. Tony Sipp got the assignment for the eighth, and he also retired the side in order on eight pitches, but he threw a strikeout into the mix for good measure. Jed Lowrie also assisted with a diving stop to rob Country Breakfast.
Luke Gregerson came on for the ninth, and he was all over the place. He opened up the frame by walking Stephen Vogt on four pitches. Gregerson then got Lawrie to ground to Lowrie at third, but Lowrie tried to make the play backing up, and his throw to second base eluded Jose Altuve, and disappeared into RF. The throw missed the same way that his momentum was going just before he set his feet. That put runners on the corners with no outs, and Ike Davis followed with a single just over Altuve's head to put runners on the corners with still no outs, but also score a run.
Gregerson knuckled down, and he looked like he might sneak out of it. He struck out Marcus Semien for the first out, then walked Eric Sogard to load the bases, but set up a force at home. On the first pitch to Billy Burns, he hit a slow bouncer up the middle - too slow to head home with the throw. Altuve was drawn in, and he flipped to Correa as fast as he could. Correa has a cannon for an arm, and he got it to González, who made a good stretch, but Burns was safe, narrowly avoiding the double-play. The tying run scored, however, and Gregerson nearly gave it all up by allowing a hard-hit fly ball to Coco Crisp to RF that Rasmus tracked down on the warning track, just shy of the 362 sign.
The Astros headed to the tenth with their second opportunity for a save. Will Harris got the assignment, and he made no mistakes. Josh Reddick singled against the shift leading off, but he was erased on the next pitch when Country Breakfast grounded a tailor-made DP ball back to the mound. Both runners were out by 15 feet. Stephen Vogt grounded to second for the final out of the game - an Altuve sprawling save ended the affair.
At the Plate
The Astros opened up well against Aaron Brooks... at least after Jose Altuve went down on three pitches for an opening strikeout. Carlos Gómez, who entered the game hitting .296/.321/.481 as an Astro, played some old fashioned NL small-ball in bunting for a base hit to the third base side of the mound. Brett Lawrie came in and fielded it cleanly, but he was unable to make the play. Gómez then went to third on Carlos Correa's soft line drive into LF - a solid piece of baserunning - then Jed Lowrie hit a fly ball to medium left to score Gómez on a sac fly, who deserves a big part of the credit for that run. The dude can motor.
In the second, the Astros' Arlington woes caught up on them. With one out, Luis Valbeuna - who the radio guys were giving credit for re-tooling his swing and shortening it up - singled over the shift into RF, and then advanced to third on an error and fielder's choice from Eric Sogard, whose backhanded flip was a little ambitious. With runners on the corners and one out, Handsome Jake headed to the plate, and he struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch - a fastball at the knees. Jose Altuve followed with a groundout on a pitch in the left-handers batting box, and the Astros again blew a chance to score a runner from third with less than two outs, swinging or not swinging at precisely the wrong pitches.
The Astros went in order in the third, including a Jed Lowrie fly out to the warning track in left. They went in order all striking out swinging in the fourth. Yikes. Rasmus went on a 2-2 high change, Gattis went on an elevated slider away on a full count, and Valbeuna went on a change inside on a 1-2 count, but on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. A Jose Altuve two-out single into LF broke the tedium in the fifth, but Gómez grounded out on a check swing at the next pitch to end the frame. And in the sixth Carlos Correa walked on four pitches, and was picked off and caught in a run down while the next two hitters went in order. Inning over. In the seventh, the Astros went in order, ending the night for Oakland's Aaron Brooks. Brooks left with a 2-1 lead.
Ex-stro Fernando Rodriguez started the eighth for the A's. With one out, Jose Altuve singled up the middle, then stole second during Carlos Gómez's at-bat (which ended in a strikeout). Altuve may have been caught stealing but for the high throw to second. So with two outs and Altuve on second, things looked a little dire for the Astros. Carlos Correa stepped to the plate, and he worked the count to 2-0 before he got a fastball up in the zone that leaked arm side into the inner third.
Correa put a great swing on it, and he hammered it to the LF-CF power alley. The ball got out easily, into the bleachers above the wall, and the Astros took a 3-2 lead. F-Rod's reaction to the pitch was awesome - he knew it was gone, and he stuck his glove in the air like he was signalling a pop-up.
The Astros weren't done in the inning, either, which is just as well. Another ex-stro Fernando Abad relieved, and he promptly walked Jed Lowrie. Lowrie was on first when Colby Rasmus singled off the end of the bat into the LF-CF gap - the ball dropped pretty shallow. When CF Billy Burns failed to glove it properly, he deflected the ball between the legs of Coco Crisp, who had lost it in the lights when it was still in the air. Crisp needed to retreat to get it, and Lowrie, who was going first-to-third, never stopped, and he scored a vital fourth run for the Astros.
The Astros' scoring was done for the eighth, and they went in order in the ninth. They also got to bat in the tenth, thanks to Gregerson's blown save. Edward Mujica opened the frame by allowing a single to LF to Jose Altuve - a wee line-drive over the head of the third baseman. Altuve then stole second on a pitchout - Vogt's throw was again high - and Carlos Gómez sac-bunted him to third with one out. That brought Carlos Correa to the plate, and he worked the count to 3-0... before popping up on the infield for the second out. Which was poetic, really, because the next batter was Jed Lowrie, and he took a 3-2 fastball out of the zone away, and he flicked it into LF, over the head of the third baseman again, for an RBI double. Altuve scored, Lowrie headed into second, and the Astros took a 5-4 lead.
Jose Altuve led the assault tonight, with a 3-5 night with two stolen bases. Carlos Correa was better, going 2-4 with a walk and a home run, but he was picked off. Jed Lowrie went 1-3 with a double, a walk and a sac fly. Carlos Gómez, Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbeuna all had one hit.
Carlos Correa's home run in the eighth was clutch, and gave the Astros the lead. The turning point happened shortly after - Rasmus dumped a soft line drive into the LF-CF gap. Jed Lowrie had plans going from first to third, but when the ball escaped between the legs of Coco Crisp, Lowrie advanced home, and scored a vital insurance run. Insurance that the Astros needed to take out.
Man of the Match
Carlos Correa, for a fabulous night. Jed Lowrie's error sunk his MoTM bid.
Goat of the Game
Luke Gregerson has done well, but has had patches when he hasn't pitched well. He had very limited command tonight, and he was not assisted by his D at all. And when it all shook out, he nearly escaped the jam. But he can't escape the Goat. Sorry, Luke.
Battle of the Aces.
Dallas Keuchel (13-5, 2.35) versus Sonny Gray (11-4, 2.12)
Stellar pitching matchup.
10 Eastern, 9 Central.