Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.53) versus Dallas Keuchel (14-6, 2.36).
Wash, rinse and repeat yesterday's game recap. The Astros trailed 2-1 heading into the late innings, but they tied the game in the ninth, then won it in extras for another 3-2 win. It was a vital, clutch win, because both the Angels and the Rangers won, and the Astros continue to lead over those two teams by 2.5 games and 4 games respectively. Safe to say that Seattle and Oakland are out of it. Let's get straight to some extra-inning recappery!
On the Mound:
Dallas Keuchel and his 11-0 home record climbed the bump to start for the Astros tonight. He was victimised to a degree by a lack of run support, and he also had things go against him with a vital call in the seventh inning which cost him a chance to win the game. The 'pen bailed him out in the eighth, the offence bailed him out in the ninth, and continued strong work from the relief pitchers held the game in a tie until the Astros cobbled together some extra-inning offence for the second straight night.
Kuechel was in a little trouble early. The lead off hitter, Brandon Guyer, doubled on a full-count fastball that he drove into the LF corner for a double. Keuchel followed by walking the next hitter Desmond Jennings on a full count breaking pitch that bounced well in front of the plate. But a groundout, a strikeout (full-count breaking ball inside) and a foul out against the heart of the Tampa order ended the first frame maintaining the scoreless tie.
The second inning was much more Keuchel's style. He retired the side on six pitches, all on weak groundouts. More groundouts in a nine-pitch third inning, but this time one of them went for a hit (a single), and no runs were scored in the frame. Another single to left on a grounder leading off the fourth, but a peach of a 6-4-3 double play (started with a backhanded toss by Correa) meant that Keuchel faced the minimum. In the fifth, the side went in order on 7 pitches, and in the sixth, three-up and three-down on nine pitches, including strikeouts of Jennings (sinking fastball down) and Longoria (looking on a four-seamer down and away). Keuchel was being brutally efficient at this point.
The brutal efficiency ended in the seventh inning. Leading off, Logan Forsythe popped up down the RF side. First baseman Luis Valbuena hustled over to make the catch, but the ball was just in the stands, and the fans tried to make the play. Not a single green turtleneck in sight, however. The ump ruled that the ball was foul and no interference had occurred, and that call was compounded on the ninth pitch of the at-bat when Forsythe singled up the middle. After an Asdrubal Cabrera strikeout, Forsythe stole second, and he scored easily when Tim Beckham tripled to the Astros' bullpen wall in the CF-RF gap. Beckham then scored on Loney's sac-fly to right field - the throw was in plenty of time, and Conger just whiffed on catching it - and the Rays took a 2-1 lead.
Keuchel had recorded his last out. The first two Rays hitters reached on singles to CF, and Hinch summonsed Qualls from the bullpen. Qualls did a mighty job, striking out three of the next four hitters (and allowing a non-RBI single to the fourth) in preventing further runs from scoring. The first strikeout victim was Desmond Jennings - he went down swinging on a 2-2 slider that was low. Next, Evan Longoria singled to left field, but Marwin pounced on it in LF, and the runners only advanced one base. Logan Forsythe went down on three straight pitches, the last of which was a tight slider away, and Asdrubal Cabrera was retired on four pitches, including a third-strike swing at a slider down and in.
Pat Neshek got the assignment for the ninth, and Tim Beckham responded by laying down a perfect bunt single to third base. Jed Lowrie ain't mobile there - I wonder whether he and Valbuena should swap places. Beckham was erased when Loney lined out to Altuve - he was easily doubled off first - and Neshek struck out Kiermaier on an elevated pitch away to end the frame.
Gregerson set the side down in order in the tenth, and Harris followed suit in the eleventh. Harris came out again for the twelfth, and retired the lead off hitter, Tim Beckham, before Oliver Pérez relieved. He immediately put a runner in scoring position when James Loney doubled into the left field corner, but he nailed down a scoreless from by retiring the next two. Pérez opened the thirteenth by retiring Grady Sizemore, who was initially ruled safe when Pérez was a little slow to cover first, but the call was overturned on challenge. Josh Fields relieved Pérez, and he set down Jennings and Longoria on strikeouts (both high fastballs), taking nine pitches to do so.
At the Plate:
Carlos Correa is great, and he opened the scoring for the Astros with a line-drive solo home run into the Crawford Boxes in the first inning. The pitch was a fastball thrown on an 0-2 count, and it looked like it was pretty much down the middle of the plate. Flat shot, got out in a hurry, about 5 rows back. Jed Lowrie followed with a single, but Preston Tucker fouled out to end the frame. The side went in order in the second, including two strikeouts, and Jose Altuve doubled into the LF corner on a hard line drive in the third. He didn't advance, because González and Correa both went down in order.
An Evan Gattis two-out single up the middle was the only drama in the fourth, then in the fifth, Handsome Jake (starting in CF for Carlos Gómez) reached on a bunt single. He stole second, went to third on a fly ball to CF, but was marooned when Marwin González hit a line drive down the throat of Desmond Jennings in left field for the third out.
Another Astros threat went without troubling the scorers in the sixth. Jed Lowrie walked on four pitches, then Preston Tucker hit a squibber off the hands just past the pitcher, and just to the first base side of second. The ball died there, but Tim Beckham did a nice job of fielding it, and he casually threw toward first. Tucker was ruled out, but he had beaten the play, and the call was overturned on challenge - the first of three for the Astros. The euphoria of having runners on first and second with one out lasted 4 pitches, as Evan Gattis grounded into a 5-unassisted-3 double play to end the inning.
The Astros went in order in the seventh, which was better than going down in order on strikeouts, which is what they did in the eighth (on TEN pitches, too). Well done, Alex Colomé, architect of the Astros' demise in that inning - it doesn't get much more dominant than that. Exactly one strike was fouled, the rest were clean strikes (either looking or swinging), and the lone remaining pitch was a ball.
That takes us to the bottom of the ninth. Jed Lowrie led off by popping up not fair territory behind third base, and the ball dropped into the Bemuda Triangle, with neither left fielder Jennings or shortstop Beckham able to make the play. Lowrie went to second on the bloop, and advanced to third when Brad Boxberger missed waaaaaay inside, and the ball got past catcher Casali and went all the way to the backstop. From there Evan Gattis hit a soft grounder right up the middle and past a drawn in infield, scoring Lowrie to tie the game at twos. The euphoria and possibility of ending the game in regulation lasted one pitch - Valbuena GIDP'd to end regulation and send the game to extras.
Brandon Gomes pitched the tenth and eleventh, and he set down the six hitters that he faced, including four on strikeouts. Matt Andriese got the twelfth, and Luis Valbeuna singled with two outs, but was out by a boatload trying to get to second base on a routine liner to the out-of-town scoreboard. Andriese stayed on for the fateful thirteenth, striking out Hank Conger to lead off the frame, then walking Rasmus on five pitches. Altuve followed with a chopper through a strangely vacant left side of the infield, and because it was on a full count, Rasmus was off and going, and he cruised into third to put runners on the corners. With Marwin González having the chance for his second consecutive walkoff, Altuve stole second. Marwin struck out looking, however, and was none too happy with the call in the process. But all that did is bring Carlos Correa to the plate, and on a 2-1 count, he singled on an elevated pitch through the strangely-vacant right side of the infield to win the game. He pitch was breaking ball that perhaps backed up, and Correa grounded it off his fists the other way, winning the game. He was definitely trying to go the other way, and it worked a treat,
Multiple hitters had two hits, including Jose Altuve (2-6, SB), Carlos Correa (2-6, HR), Jed Lowrie (2-4, BB, 2B) and Evan Gattis (2-5, BB). Rasmus went 0-1 with a vital walk. Tucker and Valbuena both went 1-5, and Handsome Jake went 1-3 with a stolen base.
Chad Qualls relieved for an out-of-gas Dallas Keuchel in the eighth. Keuchel had allowed the first two runners to reach. Qualls struck out three of the next four hitters to retire the side without further runs scoring. That meant that Jed Lowrie's lead off pop-up in the ninth put him in a position to tie the game a couple of innings later.
Man of the Match:
It is tempting to say Correa here, and perhaps I should, but the Astros' 'pen was frikking awesome. It started with Qualls, and that is better described above. Neshek and Pérez allowed a hit each, but that was all. In all, the bullpen combined for six innings of two hit, no walk, nine strikeout ball, including perfect frames from Harris and Gregerson. Awesome. Not quite Alex Colomé awesome, but awesome enough.
Goat of the Game:
Take your pick - Conger with his 0-5, 5K noodle-armed night with a missed catch on a play at the plate; González with his 0-6, 4K night; or Valbuena with his 1-5 night with a gigantic TOOTBLAN and a vital GIDP.
On the Morrow:
Final game of the set, and last game against the pesky Rays for the year.
Collin McHugh (13-6, 4.09) versus Chris Archer (10-9, 2.93).
8 Eastern, 7 Central.
After that, it's the Dodgers being hosted by the Astros.