Trying to live-blog today - lets see how it goes. I may need to leave because the kids have a haircut booked. The Fox presentation on the international feed is, um, interesting - I have to sit through this awful segment called Start-Bench-Cut. It is horrible. Apparently, the Royals are "under pressure" and have a "must win" on their hands.
I am missing the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup fixture against Tonga for this, as well. If the rest of New Zealand find out, I will get lynched.
The starting pitchers are Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto - both midseason trade acquisitions who have been a little mercurial for their new teams.
First: Cueto started strongly, with three consecutive strikes. The first of the strikes was a fastball away, and Altuve popped it up into CF. George Springer found himself quickly into an 0-2 hole, but Cueto was unable to throw a strike that wasn't fouled off, and the eventual outcome of the at-bat was a walk. Cueto was giving Springer all kinds of looks in that at-bat - think Oliver Pérez on steroids - but the at-bat ended when Springer checked his swing on a slider away. Carlos Correa was up next - he, too was in an 0-2 hole, but he was called out by Angel Hernandez (great, Angel Hernandez... something interesting is going to happen behind the plate!) on a pitch that was 4 inches inside. Nice framing from Sal Pérez.
Colby Rasmus was the next batter up, and he lined it deep to RF on the first pitch. The pitch was a changeup under the zone, and Rasmus jumped on it. The ball flew right over the RF Rios' head, and landed at the base of the wall. Springer was off to the races, and he scored without a play. That hit breaks the tie for (I think) most consecutive postseason games to start a career with an extra-base hit. Rasmus has six, Nelson Cruz has five. Astros 1-0.
The Astros followed with an Evan Gattis hard grounder through the 5.5 hole into LF. Rasmus was off and running, but he was held at third by Gary Pettis. I don't blame Pettis - the ball got to Alex Gordon awful quick. The broadcasters thought that Pettis should have sent Rasmus - I am less sure. But when Valbuena struck out with runners on the corners, the more aggressive opinions were vindicated.
Kazmir started the game well, getting Alcides Escobar to pop out on the fourth pitch of the game. Kazmir's velocity looks better - he is sitting around 93 according to the gun. Ben Zobrist took a fastball away the other way for a line-drive single, reaching first with one out. However, he was unable to advance as Kazmir - who stayed away from Lorenzo Cain, then busted him inside with a fastball to entice a fly ball to medium-LF. Eric Hosmer tried to channel his inner Colby Rasmus, popping up on the first pitch for the out.
Second: Chris Carter was leading off the inning, and he reached first on a broken bat single into shallow CF. He was busted a little inside, and sawn off, and Cain was unable to make the play. That brought Jason Castro to the plate, and he walked a full count after being 0-2 down in the count. The 3-2 pitch was a cutter inside, Castro took, and the Astros had runners on first and second with no outs.
That brought Handsome Jake up - getting the start in CF again. Marisnick lay down a bunt to the third-base side of the mound - not a great bunt. Mike Moustakas fielded it cleanly, looked back toward third, but no one was covering. He tried to go to first, but Marisnick had busted it down the line, and he beat the throw. That loaded the bases with no out, with Altuve at the plate.
Altuve was the first out of the inning, popping an 0-2 pitch up into shallow RF. Cueto was up and in to Altuve over that whole at-bat. Springer up, bases still loaded because Carter was unable to advance: Springer worked the count to 3-0, then fouled one off before Springer fisted a soft line-drive into shallow LF. He was busted inside, the ball landed shallow enough for Escobar to field in shallow left (running out), and both Castro and Carter scored. Escobar didn't pick the ball cleanly, and that may have cost him. Astros 3-0, runners at first and second with one out.
Carlos Correa was quickly in an 0-2 hole, but he took a couple of pitches to even the count at 2-2. The Astros have been putting up very disciplined at-bats, refusing to fish off the plate. I wonder if Cueto is tipping his pitches - they are not fishing at all at the slider, and they are swinging at fastballs way inside at times. Correa extended the at-bat to eight pitches before lining a fastball inside the other way. I thought it caught the foul-pole, but no one else got excited by it, then Correa promptly GIDP to third end the frame. Cueto has been worked for 49 pitches through two innings work.
So entering the bottom of the second, Kazmir was staked to a 3-0 lead. Kendrys Morales is leading off, and he took a strike looking (a fat fastball down the middle), fouled off a slider, then swung at a fastball up-and-in for the strikeout. Kazmir retired Moustakas on a line out to RF - Kazmir had a 3-1 count, and he had to come with a fastball, and the Moose obliged by hitting it hard down George Springers' throat. Kazmir was no so lucky on the next batter - Sal Pérez took a room-service fastball (right after John Smoltz said how good Kazmir looked), and he hammered it deep to LF for a solo shot. Astros 3-1. Alex Gordon grounded out to second for the last out.
Third: Cueto's pitch count bears watching, and the Astros have had some really good at-bats against him. Remember that Ned Yost used Chris Young yesterday for four innings, and Ventura won't pitch today after he started yesterday. The Royals' pen may be getting a bit of a work out, but as yet, no action in the bullpen.
Right, Rasmus up and doesn't homer on the first pitch of the inning. It was a fat, elevated fastball, but Rasmus fouled it off. Rasmus was quickly in an 0-2 hole, then he took a close pitch away. On a 1-2 count, Cueto did the Rocking Chair, but he missed the target (which was down and away) with a fastball. The pitch missed up and over the plate, Rasmus didn't miss, and the ball wound up getting out in the RF-CF power alley. No yesterdays fountain shot, but still enough to get out, and that was a fat pitch on an 0-2 count. Astros 4-1.
Gattis and Valbuena both went down on the first pitch, the Chris Carter was caught looking at strike three on a full count. The third strike pitch was a fastball that just caught the plate away.
Alex Rios leads off for the Royals, and his at-bat ends with a line-drive the other way for a lead off double. The 2-2 pitch was a fastball away, and it split the gap, with the ball going all the way to the wall. Escobar followed with a bunt, and the play at first was very close - ruled out by the ump, but was overturned on review. Carter ran in to field the ball, Altuve was covering second, and Carter's underhanded toss was a little loopy to get the speedy Escobar. First and third, no one out, game tying run at the plate, and up to bat is ex-Stro Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist took a fat slider for the first pitch, then ran the count to 2-2. Zobrist spoiled a good 2-2 pitch, then grounded to third. Valbuena started the 5-4-3 twin killing, and while the Royals scored, the bases were also emptied. Astros 4-2. Lorenzo Cain popped out to foul ground in RF for the third out.
Fourth: The Astros went in order on a Jason Castro groundout to second, a Marisnick strikeout swinging, and an Altuve first-pitch fly out to CF. Quick inning, and Cueto ended the frame sitting at 69 pitches.
As an aside, the Rangers and Jays are still tied in the bottom of the 13th with one out. Sounds like there is a bit of feeling in that game.
Eric Hosmer grounded out to second for for the first out of the inning. Morales followed with his second strikeout of the game - also Kazmir's second strikeout - and Morales whiffed on a fastball down-and-away that hit 94 on the gun. The Moose was quickly in an 0-2 hole, and his at-bat ended when he popped up to shallow LF off the end of the bat. Kazmir looked better in that frame than he has looked at any time so far. He is sitting on 57 pitches.
Fifth: Springer leading off against Cueto. Springer seems to have been putting together great at-bats for the last week or two. After working the count to 2-1, Springer got busted inside on a running fastball, grounding it to short. Carlos Correa hit the fourth pitch of his at-bat into the RF corner, again playing pepper with the foul pole, then he fouled the next pitch off his back knee. After a wee break, Correa struck out on the next pitch. Rasmus walked on a 3-1 count, bringing up Gattis with Rasmus on first. Gattis got busted inside with a fastball, popping it to second base for the third out. Cueto sitting at 88 pitches through five innings.
This is a big inning for Kazmir. If he cruises through this inning, he sets himself up for a good sixth frame, and the Astros can play their bullpen how they want. Otherwise, the Stros may need to mix-'n-match through the sixth and seventh, and cross fingers for the eighth and ninth. With a day off tomorrow, the hook may be short.
Sal Pérez up, and he worked the count to 3-2 before striking out on a fastball down and away. Alex Gordon, and he also worked the count to 3-2 before fouling off a low fastball, and taking a high ball for a walk. That brings up Alex Rios as the tying run, and he doubled the last time up. Rios got a great call on a 1-1 slider - the ball was a strike, and he probably didn't check his swing - then he fouled the next pitch off to run the count to 2-2. The following pitch was a ball - the third consecutive batter to work a full count, and Kazmir dodged a bullet when Rios pulled a low slider just foul down the LF line. On the next pitch, Springer made a routine play in RF on a medium-depth fly ball. Springer was fighting the sun somewhat.
So two out, and Hinch has his fingers crossed with Escobar at the plate. Stirring in the Astros' bullpen - Josh Fields is up and throwing. Kazmir throws two balls to start the at-bat, before rebounded to level the count on a foul and a generous called strike down and away. Kazmir got the call on a fastball down and in, and the inning is over.
As an aside, Texas has scored twice in the top of the 14th to lead 6-4.
Sixth: Cueto is still in the game - he has done well to bounce back after being worked over in the first two innings. Luis Valbuena opened the frame by singling through a modified shift. Carter followed by just missing on the first pitch of his at-bat, sending it to the warning track in CF for the first out. Lorenzo Cain made a routine catch, again battling the sun, which has only appeared in the last inning-and-a-half. That brought Jason Castro up, and he hit a fly ball to medium CF on a 3-1 count for a routine out. Handsome Jake grounded out to short to end the top of the sixth. Cueto has thrown 102 pitches, keeping the Astros off the scoreboard for the last three innings.
Scotty Kazmir stays in the game for the Astros, and he rewards Hinch's faith by immediately throwing three balls to Ben Zobrist. A called strike and a couple of fouls ran the count full, then he popped a low fastball up into the shallow RF-CF gap for the first out. Kazmir quickly had Lorenzo Cain in an 0-2 hole but then Cain doubled on a fastball away to the RF corner. John Smoltz noticed that Cain had started all of his at-bats with a changeup, and hard stuff had been thrown after that. Kazmir followed the script, gave up the double, and Hinch bounced out of the dugout with the hook.
Oliver Pérez scaled the hill to face lefty Eric Hosmer. He quickly had him in an 0-2 hole on two swinging sliders. However, on the 0-2 pitch, Pérez tried the Johnny Cueto rocking chair to disrupt his timing, Lorenzo Cain took off for third. Hosmer reached out, singled it off the end of the bat, and dumped it into shallow LF. That scored Cain easily - he was pretty much standing on third when the ball dropped - running the score to Astros 4-3, with Hosmer on first.
Kendrys Morales was next up, and he singled through the conventional second-base position. However, that was vacated by virtue of the shift, and runners were on the corner with one out. Perez stayed on to face the Moose, and the count was quickly 0-3. Pérez got a gift strike inside, then Moustakas was deemed to have checked his swing on the 3-1 pitch. Bases loaded, Hinch had seen enough of Pérez, and Josh Fields was summoned from the bullpen. I hope he has a fire extinguisher with him.
Fields on Sal Pérez - biggest at-bat of the game: slider away for a ball, fastball inside for a ball, fastball low for a ball, fastball up and in - huge miss - for the wall. Astros and Royals tied at 4, still one out, still bases loaded. Fields (who looks nervous, with Mike Fiers warming up in the 'pen) on Alex Gordon: fastball strike down and away - quality pitch there - changeup swinging away, curveball inside - nearly hit him and Castro made a great play to keep the ball in front of him, then a fastball away, which Gordon swung at. Second out.
Fields on Alex Rios: foul on a fastball down, curveball in the dirt which Castro blocked, fastball that Rios was late on and was fouled off, curveball down and away for a ball, fastball running in that Rios swung at for the last out of the inning. Game tied, heading to the seventh. Fields bounced back nicely to strike out the last two with the bases loaded.
Seventh: The Royals have Kelvin Herrera on the bump to fact the top of the order. Herrera hit triple-digits a few times yesterday. Jose Altuve grounded out to second to end the frame - the third pitch of that at-bat was a generous strike-call. Springer struck out on high-90's inside. Correa missed a fat, hung slider - he was sitting fastball - before he stung one up the middle for a single. The pitch was a slider that backed up, and Correa hit a line up that no one had any chance to get.
That brought Rasmus to the plate with the go-ahead run on first. Rasmus missed a first-pitch fastball, and reacted by showing some annoyance. Rasmus filled the count, then popped up a fastball on the infield, and was retired without problem.
The Royals have the top of their order up, and Hinch has elected to have Will Harris on the mound. Alcides Escobar led off with a high drive that was perfectly positioned between Marisnick and Springer - Springer was playing very shallow - and Escobar got all the way to third base with a lead off triple. That brought Hinch to the mound for a case conference with Zobrist at the plate batting lefty for the first time. Zobrist followed with a single the other way, against the shift on the second pitch of the at-bat. The Royals take the lead, 5-4, no outs in the seventh, runner on first.
Lorenzo Cain grounded into a fielders' choice to second, narrowly beating out a 4-6-3 double-play. The Astros couldn't have turned that any faster, so nice baserunning from Cain. Eric Hosmer popped out to LF for the second out. Hinch called on Sipp - mostly, I would think - to keep Morales batting from the right side.
The Astros overshift on Morales, and they get him to roll over on a 1-1 breaking pitch for the last out. Valbuena made a solid-play on a slow roller to third. Heading to the eighth, and the Royals have fought back to have the game where they want it - turned over to their vaunted bullpen with a lead.
Eighth: Ryan Madson got the call for the eighth, with Evan Gattis leading off. Gattis rolled over on an easy grounder to short for the first out. Valbuena struck out after taking a couple of close pitches for balls, showing improved plate discipline. Chris Carter went after the first pitch - fouling it off - and his at-bat ended on the fifth pitch on a high fastball, swinging. The Astros were retired in order, and unless they can get something going against Wade Davis in the ninth, they head back to Houston with the series tied.
Tony Sipp remains in the game to start the bottom of the eighth, with Neshek up in the 'pen. Moustakas worked the count full, the fouled two pitches off with the count full before he hit a hard liner on a low breaking pitch, right down the throat of Springer in RF, just like he did earlier in the game. Hinch out with the hook, and Neshek summonsed from the 'pen with the bases empty and one out.
Sal Pérez at the plate and he lined the first two pitches down the LF and RF line respectively. Pérez singled against the shift on the third pitch - Neshek went away with a slider, and Pérez just went with it. No break on Neshek's slider there, either, mirroring his problems over the last month. That brought Gordon to the plate, and he singled on a grounder to RF. That put runners on the corners with one out. The Royals pinch run for Alex Gordon with Jarrod Dyson.
Paulo Orlando, who was a defensive replacement for Alex Rios earlier, struck out for the second out. Jarred Dyson had stolen second on the second pitch, however. Alcides Escobar up next, and he took a strike, fouled one off, fouled another off, poked one foul down the RF line, then lined an easy fly-ball to RF for the final out. A scoreless inning - a late hit there from the Royals would have spelled disaster for the Astros.
Ninth: Okay... so the Astros are going to need to come back against a dude with an 0.94 ERA this year (and a 1.00 ERA last year). Davis might not have What It Takes To Pitch In The Ninth, however, because he only has 20 saves in the last two seasons. The Astros have Castro, Marisnick and Altuve listed, but I am sure A.J. Hinch won't be shy about pinch hitting.
Jed Lowrie pinch hits for Jason Castro. No drama here, as Lowrie goes called-strike, called-strike, called-strike, and returns to the dugout for a rest. Preston Tucker up next - he takes a breaking pitch down, a fastball that Davis lost the handle on for a ball, then he fouled off a cutter inside. The count went to 3-1 when Davis missed away with a fastball, then Tucker fouled another pitch off to run the count full. Tucker took a close pitch for ball four - clearly a ball, as Davis yanked a 98-mph four-seamer down and in. Carlos Gómez was asked to pinch run for Tucker, but was promptly picked off - initially ruled safe, but overturned on review. Gómez was nearly picked off yesterday, too, and Wade Davis hasn't picked anyone off for the last two years. Sigh.
So Altuve at the plate with two outs. Called strike on the first pitch, foul on the second pitch, and Altuve was in an 0-2 hole. Altuve did his bit, hitting a hard grounder to third, but Moustakas was playing no doubles, and he snaffled it and threw to first to retire Altuve and end the game.
Astros lose, 5-4, and head back to Houston tied one-apiece.
Thanks for reading. The live blog is over!