Mike Fiers (2-1, 5.73) versus Sean Manaea (lots of zeros)
The Astros headed down the West Coast to Oakland to start a three-game series with the Athletics. The A's are coming off a tough road trip that involved their bats being left behind, and they currently sit fourth in the AL West. Fourth is a heckuva lot better than fifth, which is where the Astros sit, thanks to a rough start to the season. The themes of the Astros' early season woes are as follows: Ken Giles, TOOTBLANS, poor starting pitching and RISP woes, and the Astros had the former two on display tonight. It cost them the game.
Astros lose, 7-4, on a walkoff home run. But the damage was done a little earlier than that, with Ken Giles and Carlos Gómez being key players in the collapse.
On the Mound:
Mike Fiers entered the game as one of the worst in the AL (tied second, with six others) in terms of giving up home runs. After facing the minimum in the first (Billy Burns was erased on a caught stealing after a perfect throw from Erik Kratz), Fiers yielded a two-run home run to Coco Crisp, with two outs. Fiers had done well to open that frame by getting the first two outs on fly outs, but then Chris Coghlan singled on a line drive to RF, and Crisp followed with a home run on a 1-0 pitch. The pitch was a fastball that was meant to be down and away, but Fiers missed glove-side-and-up, and the result was an elevated fastball over the plate. That put the A's up, 2-1.
From there, Fiers was strong, pitching five further scoreless frames. He retired the side in the third, he allowed a one-out double in the fourth, he worked around two singles (again, helped by a caught stealing / pickoff) in the fifth, and allowed another one-out double in the sixth, eventually striking out Stephen Vogt on a perfect fastball in for the third out, with Roddick on third base. That preserved the (at the time) 2-run lead.
Fiers capped his solid evening by retiring the side in order in the seventh. His final line was 7IP, 7H, 2R/ER and 5 strikeouts. No walks. One home-run allowed, re-taking the AL lead in home runs allowed (first equal, at least).
Eighth inning is Ken Giles time. Sadly, tonight, it was also comeback time (for the A's). Sigh. Giles may be tipping his pitches - the first batter was Marcus Semien, and he was quickly 0-2, but he also seemed to know what was coming. After Giles was unable to get Semien to chase a couple of fastballs (and a slider-or-two was fouled off), Giles tried to come inside on a full-count fastball. Semien was all over it, and he barrelled it up, sending a long fly ball down the LF line, just fair, for a home run that reduced the deficit to one.
The following batter was Billy Burns, and he flicked a fastball away into shallow LF for a base hit. Rasmus was guarding the line and playing in, but not nearly enough, and Burns' soft fly-ball dropped in. That brought up ex-Stro Jed Lowrie, and he took the first two pitches for balls. On the second pitch, Burns took off for second, Kratz's throw was pulled to the SS side of second base, and headed into CF. Carlos Gómez was backing up aggressively, and I thought he had a real chance and getting Burns as he headed to third, but he didn't glove the ball cleanly and the opportunity was missed. So Burns was on third with no outs, and Jed managed a typically professional at-bat, driving him in with a sac-fly.
That was enough for Hinch, who carried a butterfly net to the mound to corral a gutted looking Giles, and man-handle him back to the dugout before he could do further damage. Tony Sipp relieved, and he retired the next two hitters without incident. Sipp opened the ninth inning against lefty Stephen Vogt, and Vogt doubled to the gap on a line-drive that Gómez dove for, but just missed coming up with. The ball was in the LF gap, and Rasmus was backing up, so Vogt stopped at second. Pat Neshek relieved, a sac-bunt moved Vogt's pinch-runner up to third, Coco Crisp was pitched around (and eventually walked) then Yadier Alonso capped the comeback by taking Neshek deeeeep to RF for a three run shot to end the game. Low fastball, over the middle of the plate, and hammered.
At the Plate:
Sean Manaea was making his ML debut, and he looked good, with a big frame and a low-arm slot from the left side. He worked his mid-90's fastball and slurvy breaking ball to both sides of the plate. He didn't have great command, and when the Astros waited him out, they had success.
Anyhow, George Springer singled in the first, but was caught stealing before Carlos Correa struck out to end the frame. The lead-off hitter in the second inning was Evan Gattis, and he smashed a no-doubt short well into the LF power alley for a solo shot (wouldn't have been solo if Springer hadn't of tried to steal). The ball leaked up and over the middle of the plate, and Gattis hammered a high fastball well out for his first home run of the year.
Manaea had a relatively low-stress third inning, before the Astros worked him in the fourth. Correa walked, but was picked off first. He was eventually safe at second when Jed Lowrie kindly dropped the throw from the first baseman, Alonso. After a Gattis strikeout, Rasmus walked before Tyler White fouled into a cavernous third-base foul territory before Carlos Gómez struck out swinging.
Another quick fifth inning for Manaea, before the Astros got on top of him in the sixth. George Springer opened the frame by being HBP, then Carlos Correa walked, and Evan Gattis singled through the 5.5 hole to draw the scores level at twos. After a Rasmus fly out to shallow left, Tyler White singled through the 5.5 hole to cap a mammoth 11-pitch battle with Sean Doolittle, sometime closer for the A's. Carlos Gómez struck out with runners on first and second for the second out. MarGo was quickly in a 1-2 hole, but he hammered a fastball away into deep CF that got well over the head of Billy Burns. Sadly for the Astros, the ball took a hard bounce off the warning track for a ground-rule double, and the trail runner had to stop at third base, and MarGo's efforts only resulted in one run. Erik Kratz struck out to end the frame.
The Astros went in order in the seventh and the eighth, at that time nursing a two-run lead. Leading off the night, Carlos Gómez hammered a 1-0 pitch to deep LF for what looked like his first home run of the season. The ball hit the yellow line, and rebounded into the field of play. Gómez hadn't rounded first well, but dug for second then third after the rebound. Billy Burns was backing up well, and he fired a short throw to third base to nail Gómez in a critical situation - the first out of the inning recorded at third base. Plus, if the ball had been slightly higher, Gómez would have recorded his first home run on the year, and the Astros would have led. Sigh.
MarGo struck out, and Tucker popped up a 3-2 changeup for the third out. Because of the events in the bottom half of the inning, the Astros didn't get a chance to bat again.
Carlos Gómez had a bad ninth inning after Ken Giles' terrible eighth. Gómez TOOTBLAN'd to open the frame, then dove and missed Vogt's double in the bottom half. Both plays nearly made, but not quite enough.
Man of the Match:
Mike Fiers. Good work from an Astros starter, for the first time in a while.
Goat of the Game:
Ken Giles. Ouch. Assist to Gómez.
On the Morrow:
Chris Devenski makes his starting debut (0-0, 0.66). He is opposed by Jesse Hahn (0-0, 0.00)
4 Eastern, 3 Central.