Henry Owens (0-0, 0.00) versus Scott Feldman (0.2, 4.11)
Rubber game for the Astros - the fourth of the year already - and a nationally televised game to boot. ESPN carried the game, with their fancy K-Zone and all, so perhaps the white hot lights of national exposure (the first Sunday night game since opening game 2013) would kick the Astros into gear.
Nope. More sloppy defensive play, another short start from a starting pitcher, and more evidence of a team being out-thought in most critical situations. Self inflicted wounds, again, and the Astros are in a hole early in the season. They played well enough, and thanks to some stellar bullpen work, held the Red Sox close for some more Colby Rasmus heroics. But in the end, they were tagged again with the L, going down in extras by a score of 7-5, and extending their not-awesome record to 6-13. Isn't the AL West basement lovely??
On the Mound:
Scott Feldman got the start, and he was either a little unlucky and not at all helped by his infield defense. But there was some silly stuff in there, too - like the first batter of the game!! Feldman started Mookie Betts off with a fastball inside - good, when considering that three of the infielders were shifted to the left of second base. But the second pitch was a slurvy breaking pitch on the plate, but away, and Betts leaned out and poked it into RF. I question the wisdom of shifting against the lead off hitter, then essentially gifting him a hit by allowing him to flick the ball the other way on a fat pitch.
Anyhow, a Pedroia double (just inside the 3B line on the next pitch) put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Tyler White made a great play on a Xander Bogaerts hard grounder, fielding it cleanly, looking Betts back at third, and beating Bogaerts to the bag for the force for the first out. An IBB to David Ortiz was a reasonable idea, especially when Han-Ram followed with a slow roller to third. González made the play and flipped to Altuve, but for the second time in the season, the changes to the second-base rulebook hurt the Astros, with Altuve ruled to have been off the bag. Run scored, no out recorded, and the bases were still loaded, with Altuve tagged with an error.
A walk followed by a sac-fly (great tumbling catch from Gómez in the LF power alley) meant three runs scored in the inning - more early-game misery for the Astros starting corps. Feldman bounced back nicely in the second - at least until Dustin Pedroia tripled into the RF corner with two outs, but David Ortiz was retired two batters later for a scoreless frame. Feldman also got the first two outs of the third frame without problems (both on strikeouts, although the strikeout on Han-Ram had three called strikes, none of which were in the televised K-Zone). But then Brock Holt (!) reached on an infield single to Altuve (and went to second on a throwing error), then Ryan Hanigan got a fat fastball up and away that he drove over the head of George Springer for an RBI double, then Jackie Bradley Jr doubled into the RF corner (a hard grounder that got past Tyler White), and the Sox led 5-1. Gah!!
Carlos Correa then committed the second error on the inning (a throw that pulled White off the bag on a routine play), before MarGo (starting at third) made a solid play down the line to retire Pedroia and mercifully end the third inning.
Feldman faced the minimum in the fourth, thanks to a Han-Ram double play, but when Holt walked and Hanigan singled with one out in the fifth, A.J. Hinch summoned Chris Devenski from the 'pen. Devenski and Feldman was like night and day - the former pounded the zone and got outs while working quickly, although he also wasn't victimised by his infield defense like Feldman was.
Anyhow, Devenski retired the following two batters that he faced, stranding both of the inherited runners on base. He also retired the side in order in the sixth (on nine pitches) and in the seventh, Han-Ram singled, stole second (Devenski is as slow as molasses to the plate) and went to third on a ground-out for the first out. Then Brock Holt pulled a line drive to a shallow Springer, who made the catch, and threw Ramírez out by about 10 feet at the plate. End of inning.
Devenski stayed in for the eighth, and he got the first two Red Sox on a strikeout and a pop-out. But then Mookie Betts reached on an dribbling infield single - another ball that Correa bobbled - before Dustin Pedroia singled to LF. Pat Neshek relieved, and Xander Bogaerts flew out to end the frame.
Devenski looked good tonight. He came with a fastball and change, but he also flashed a breaking ball a few times tonight, and it was a successful pitch. Devenski may get a start soon, and he deserves it.
Tony Sipp got the assignment for the ninth, and he allowed a single to David Ortiz, who was gunned down sliding into second by another strong Springer throw. The next two batters were retired without incident, although Travis Shaw worked Sipp for 10 pitches. Gregerson got the assignment in a tie game for the tenth and eleventh, and he allowed only an infield single to shortstop (another ball that Correa bobbled and should have been scored an error) in getting six outs.
The twelfth was the fateful inning for the Astros, with Ken Giles on the mound. Han-Ram singled to LF, then Travis Shaw hit a hard liner up the middle that a conventionally placed shortstop may have caught. Two on, no outs, and Brock Holt sacrificed the runners over, with a bunt to the third baseman. Ryan Hanigan then loaded the bases in a colossal at-bat, lasting 13 pitches, when he fouled off Giles' best fastballs and sliders. That loaded the bases, and when Jackie Bradley Jr singled on a line-drive to RF, that scored the eventual winning run, with an insurance run scoring when Giles uncorked a wild pitch a couple of batters later. Sigh.
At the Plate:
More RISP difficulties for the Astros early, when José Altuve doubled to LF leading off, then George Springer walked on a dubious call for ball four. But the Astros are the Astros, and Correa struck out, Rasmus popped up and Tyler White fouled out - unable to move the runners (even though Altuve stole third with no outs). Sigh.
MarGo homered into the Crawford Boxes to kick the scoring off for the Astros in the second. More runs in the third inning - George Springer led off with a double down the third-base line (after another blown two strike call by the ump) before Correa and Rasmus followed with walks, loading the bases with no outs. Then Tyler White hit a sac-fly to mid-CF for the first out, and Carlos Gómez struck out on a change up right down the middle of the plate, resulting in a snapped bat over his leg. Evan Gattis followed with an RBI single up the middle (the infield was shaded left) before MarGo grounded out for the third out.
Altuve hit an infield single just to the third-base side of the pitching mound in the fourth, before the side went down in order in the fifth. More baserunners in the sixth, with a hard-hit Evan Gattis lead off double off the scoreboard followed by a one-out Castro (0-1, 2BB) walk (his second of the night!) Grounder, fly out ended that frame. A lead-off Correa single in the seventh (on a breaking pitch down in the zone) went nowhere, and the side was dominated in the eighth by Koji Uehara, going down in order.
That left the Astros with a deficit of 5-3 heading into the ninth, with the top of the order up. Altuve (2-6, 2B) and Springer (1-5, BB, 2B) were set down in order, before Carlos Correa (2-5, BB, 2B) got a fastball up and away, which he drove to the RF wall on the full, missing a home run by a couple of feet, just over the head of Mookie Betts. Correa stopped on second, and he got to watch Colby Rasmus' at-bat, which tied the game. Fastball up-and-away was the first pitch, and Rasmus was late on it. The second pitch was supposed to be a fastball down-and-away, but Kimbrel missed glove side, and the pitch wound up in the Clay Buchholz zone from yesterday - low in the zone and down the middle of the plate. Rasmus (1-5, BB, HR) hammered it, and the ball landed a few rows over the RF bullpen for a two run home run, tying the game. Boom.
Craig Kimbrel struck out Tyler White to end the frame, and Heath Hembree entered for the tenth. Hembree is not well known in the Red Sox 'pen, but he was quite possibly the best reliever the Sox had that night. Hembree allowed only a González single in the tenth, retired the side in order in the eleventh, and allowed two runners in a scoreless twelfth - Tyler White (0-5, SF) on an error (Travis Shaw had the ball hit the heel of his glove) and Carlos Gómez (1-6, who didn't, for once, try and hit the ball ten miles) on a single away. But after Evan Gattis (2-6, 2B) looked hopeless striking out on three pitches, MarGo (2-6, HR) worked Hembree for eight pitches, fouling off ball four twice, before looking at a perfect fastball low in the zone on a full count. Game over, and I felt like I watched five hours of a slow-moving car wreck.
Pick one. The three run first inning?? More RISP difficulties in the early game?? The three errors?? (But really, more than three errors because Correa butchered at least one more play) Ken Giles?? Pick one. Self inflicted wounds, people, and this can't continue much longer if the Astros want to avoid digging themselves into a large hole.
Man of the Match:
I like every Astros reliever not named Giles for the MoTM. Rasmus hit the big blow, but he didn't have a great night despite that one at-bat. The Astros bullpen was solid - helped out a little by Springer's two great throws from RF - but they did the number, until Giles took the mound. MarGo also had a solid game, with a solo home run (does he hit any other kind??) and three solid defensive plays at third.
Goat of the Game:
Ken Giles. He allowed two early hits, and those were the ones that killed him. Ryan Hanigan had perhaps the best at-bat I saw all year off Giles - they both executed, and Hanigan just came out on top. Giles was unable to work around traffic, eventually allowing two runs.
On the Morrow:
Off to Seattle...
Doug Fister (1-2, 5.94) versus Taijuan Walker (1-0, 1.50)
10 Eastern, 9 Central.