Collin McHugh (13-6, 4.09) versus Chris Archer (10-9, 2.93)
This won't take long. In the fourth game of a four game series, the Rays earned a split behind Chris Archer's dominant performance. On the Astros' side of the offensive ledger, we have exactly one walk and one hit (a single) to analyse. The Rays only scored one run, so we don't have a whole heap to analyse in terms of the Astros' pitching and defence, either. However, I imagine I can wring a couple-thousand words out of a well pitched ballgame - which is kind of my "thing".
Chris Archer is awesome. I think I mentioned a couple of days ago that I admire Archer for his on-field and apparent off-field qualities. Those on-field qualities were abundant tonight - he had nasty, nasty stuff and some of the strikeouts of Astros' hitters were almost comical. The Astros hitters had no sense of timing all night, and the two or three hard hit balls found leather, rather than grass. On nights like this, a tip of the cap is the most appropriate acknowledgement. Ripping the Astros hitters would be unfair.
Astros lose, 1-0. So did the Angels and the Rangers, so the lead remains at 2.5 and 4.0 games respectively.
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh continued his late-season resurgence, with a solid performance of his own. McHugh pitched seven strong innings, allowing seven baserunners (five hits and two walks) while striking out five. The solitary run that he conceded was enough to lose him the game. His ERA dips just below 4 as a result of tonight's effort, and he threw 108 pitches in the process.
The first baserunner that McHugh allowed was when Desmond Jennings led off the third with a line drive against the shift, into right field. Kevin Kiermaier then walked to put runners on first and second with no outs. The first out was on a sac bunt down the first-base line, so McHugh had to manage two runners in scoring position with one out. He navigated it successfully on a foul out, a walk and a deep fly to the base of the LF wall off the bat of Evan Longoria for the third out with bases loaded.
McHugh then made a wonderful play behind his back on a grounder up the middle leading off the fateful fourth frame. Loney grounded it back to the mound, and McHugh spun and fielded the ball as cleanly as a whistle with his glove arm extended well behind his back. However, the next batter was Logan Forsythe (the architect of a few of the runs the Rays have scored this series), and he singled through the 5.5 hole. After Asdrubal Cabrera struck out, Forsythe went to second on a curveball in the dirt that got away from Castro. Four pitches later, Desmond Jennings hit a soft line drive over the heard of Jose Altuve into the CF-RF gap for a single, and Forsythe scored. The final out of the fourth occurred when McHugh caught his cleats on the ground mid-stride, but he completed his pitching action, lobbing a gentle "curve" for a strike. Kevin Kiermaier dutifully grounded it back to the mound to complete one of the weirdest outs I have seen for a while.
A leadoff single (from the catcher, Rivera) was the only notable event in the fifth, and McHugh struck out two in setting the side down in order in the sixth. Another Rivera single off the out-of-town scoreboard with two outs in the seventh resulted in McHugh's final baserunner, but McHugh bounced back to end his night with a strikeout of John Jaso.
Tony Sipp allowed a pair of one-out singles in the eighth, but the following pair of strikeouts preserved his scoreless appearance. Chad Qualls allowed a single with one out in the ninth, but that Ray (Kiermaier) was later caught stealing second on a perfect throw by Castro, and Qualls faced the minimum.
At that Plate:
The game started well for the Astros, as Archer was unable to find the strike zone on the first five pitches of the game. They were the last five bad pitches he would throw, as he got 27 outs in the next 93 pitches. So Altuve walked leading off the first, then González went from a 1-0 count to a strikeout in three pitches. Carlos Correa struck out looking on a pitch that looked just off the plate, then Altuve was caught stealing second when Rasmus was in a 2-1 count on a breaking pitch that bounced in the dirt. I wonder whether Altuve thought it got away from the catcher. Inning over, and last baserunner for a while.
The Astros went in order in the second and the third, with both innings ending on strikeouts. The fourth started on a strikeout (Altuve, on a slider away, and he clearly mouthed "wow" afterward) before the next two went in order. Colby Rasmus singled in the fifth - much to everyone's relief - to lead off, then Gómez and Gattis were retired on hard hit balls to CF that Kiermaier successfully corralled.
So Rasmus was the last baserunner for the Astros, and he never got to advance past first. Castro and Altuve struck out in the sixth, and they went in order in the seventh on seven pitches. The eighth ended when Valbuena was retired swinging - at this point, Archer was regularly hitting 96 or 97 on the gun - and the Astros looked a little befuddled. Archer took nine pitches to finish the ninth inning, and the game ended on a soft nubber to Longoria who was playing in at third, and even Altuve's speed was not enough beat it out.
Covering the box score won't take long, either. Altuve went 0-3, but had a walk and a caught stealing. Rasmus went 1-3. The End.
When Chris Archer got out of bed this morning. That was a seriously dominant performance. The Astros knew they only needed one good swing to tie the game, and they hit a couple of balls plenty hard, but it was Archer's night, and he deserved the win.
Man of the Match:
Collin McHugh, who pitched the best he has in a while, but still wore the loss.
Goat of the Game:
Awarding a goat could be interpreted as a churlish attempt at stealing Archer's limelight. He was just dominant. No goats tonight.
A big-and-bright-Friday-night matchup with the Dodgers.
Brett Anderson (7-7, 3.48) versus Mike Fiers (5-9, 3.87). Fiers has been great for the Astros aside from, like, three innings.
8 Eastern, 7 Central.