Friday, May 6, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk: G29 - Astros versus Mariners

Wade Miley (2-2, 5.06) versus Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.45)

Why, Astros fans, can we occasionally have nice things??  You know, nice things like corner infielders and DH's that can, like, hit; players that play well after we sell half of the farm to acquire them; functional starting pitchers; owners that spend money; and... sadly... win streaks.  The Astros' longest win streak of the season comes crashing to an end tonight as the bullpen conspired to steal a win from the Dragon Devenski, who was effective through six.  Astros lose, 6-3.

On the Mound:
As mentioned... Devenski was good.  He left with the lead, then the Astros blew it, drew level, anblew it again for the loss.  Devenski's final line was 6IP, 6H, 1R/ER, one walk against six strikeouts, and a couple of those hits were cheapies.  As A.J. Hinch said at the presser afterward, walks hurt the Astros tonight, and the one walk that Devenski handed out was critical in allowing the only run against him.  Sigh.

A lead-off single was erased on a caught stealing in the first - Kratz was starting at catcher tonight, and he has a solid arm.  A one-out triple in the second was stranded at third base as Devenski bore down and retired the next two hitters on a grounder back to the mound and a pop-out.  The first two outs were recorded quickly in the third, but then Nori Aoki singled and Seth Smith walked, sending Aoki to second.  That meant a Robinson Canó single scored Aoki - the pitch was a first pitch fastball that Canó grounded just past Tyler White, who dove to try and make the play.  If White managed to knock it down, the runner doesn't advance.  Little things... sigh.  Then Nelson Cruz was retired on a line-drive to RF that Springer made a great tumbling play on, retreating to his CF side.

A perfect fourth and a one-out single in the fifth (on a swinging bunt in front of the plate) continued the solid work from Devenski.  In his last inning - the sixth - he allowed a lead off single to CF to Canó, then set down the next three in order, stranding Canó at second (after he advanced on a grounder that Altuve made a fabulous spinning play to retire Nelson Cruz on).

Ken Giles relieved Devenski to open the sixth, and he was immediately in trouble.  Giles walked lead-off hitter Chris Iannetta on five pitches, then he allowed a brutal infield single to Ketel Marte, who had enough speed to get past Tyler White as he fielded the ball close to the first-base line.  White should have flicked it straight to Giles for the attempted force.  That put runners on first and second with no outs, but Giles made a nifty play to erase the lead runner on a Leonys Martín bunt back to the mound.  Hinch opted to turn to lefty Tony Sipp to try and extricate the Astros from the jam with a run of lefty hitters coming up.  

Well, Sipp was not much better.  Nori Aoki walked to load the bases, then Seth Smith hit a grounder to the right side that bisected Altuve and White, scoring two.  The pitch was a breaking ball that caught too much of the plate.  Robinson Canó grounded into a well-turned 4-6-3 twin killing to end the frame, but at that point, Devenski's lead had evaporated and the Mariners led by a score of 3-2.

Will Harris got the eighth, and he allowed only a solitary single in a 12 pitch outing.  Luke Gregerson came on in a tie-game in the ninth, and he was handsomely lit up.  A one-out single was followed by a walk and another single to load the bases, then Robinson Canó unloaded them with he got a 1-0 thigh-high four-seamer that leaked glove-side and over the plate.  The minute it left the bat it was trouble, as the runner from third would have scored easily on a sac-fly, but as it was, it landed on the warning track just short of Tal's Hill, and the bases cleared themselves.  While Gregerson bounced back to retire the next two, the damage was done and the collective Astros bullpen again struggled to hold a lead.

At the Plate:
This José Altuve guy is pretty good.  He hit his fifth lead-off home run of the year, onto the train tracks above the Crawford Boxes.  Miley tried to locate a 1-1 fastball inside, caught the middle-third, and Altuve hammered it.  There was a time I wondered what Altuve may bring in a trade - I am glad I am not the Astros GM now, because it would be hard to see how the Astros could have gotten enough value back without Mike Trout or Bryce Harper being included.

Credit to Wade Miley - he instantly settled down, retiring the next 8 hitters - until Altuve came up again.  The result was a single, but he was unable to advance as Springer grounded back to the mound to end the third.  MarGo led off the fifth with an infield single, but the next three batters went down in order.  Leading off the sixth, José Altuve singled - I swear Altuve will feature prominently in Wade Miley's nightmares for the next few nights - then was advanced to second when George Springer walked.  Carlos Correa GIDPed to kill most of the rally, but Evan Gattis (!) swept to the rescue by recording a two-out hit (!!), scoring Altuve and giving the Astros back the lead (2-1 at that point).  Gattis got an fastball up and over the plate that Miley meant to throw down-and-away, and he hit a wee line drive over the 5.5 hole into LF for a solid base hit.  Carlos Gómez (0-3, BB) followed with a walk, but MarGo flew out to CF to end that threat.

The Astros also scored in the seventh.  At this stage, the Astros trailed 3-2, so when Tyler White (1-4, 2B) led off with a double into LF (and didn't try to turn it into a triple), it seemed important.  After pinch-hitter Preston Tucker struck out, pinch-hitter Jason Castro (!!) - who was 0-1 on the night - worked a walk.  José Altuve - now featuring prominently in pitcher Nick Vincent's nightmares - hammered a fastball that was meant to be down and away, but missed over the inner-third.  The ball travelled about as far as you can hit it in MMP without leaving the yard, but Leonys Martín did a good job of tracking it, and was close enough when the ball landed to put doubt in the minds of the runners.  Anyway, the ball landed most of the way up Tal's Hill, Tyler White scored, Gary Pettis sent Castro, and he was gunned down by... I dunno... 30ft?? for the second out.  Interestingly, I see the relay throw hit the front of the mound and got a nice skim forward, so that helped some.  José Altuve advanced to third, but he was a spectator when George Springer (0-3, BB) flew out to CF to end the frame.  That levelled the game at 3 apiece.

An Evan Gattis (1-4) GIDP erased a Carlos Correa (0-3, BB) leadoff walk in the eighth, and a Preston Tucker (1-2, 2B) two-out double against Steve Cishek was the only action in the ninth.  No miracle comebacks against the AL West leading team.

Turning Point:
Both Second Basemen hit long late-game doubles to the vicinity of Tal's Hill in a tight game.  Robinson Canó's double cleared the bases, scoring three runs.  José Altuve's was longer, and would have gotten out if Tal's Hill had been bulldozed in the offseason.  Tyler White scored, Gary Pettis waved Castro home (gah!) and the resulting relay meant that Altuve's double only scored one run.  That was the difference in the game right there - if Castro had been on third and Altuve on second with one out, a single from the middle of the Astros order could have resulted in two more runs (and Springers' fly-ball would definitely have scored one more run), and perhaps the Astros may have been able to overcome a late-game shocker from Gregerson.

Man of the Match:  This should be pretty obvious.  After nod to Chris Devenski, the MoTM undoubtedly goes to José Altuve, who had a whale of a night.  4-4, 2B, HR, plus involvement in the Astros' only double play, along with a spinning grab and throw of Nelson Cruz's grounder   His line is an MVP-worthy .330/.417/.687.  I would love this to be sustained all season, but unless Altuve is some kind of super-person, I doubt it can be.

Goat of the Game:  With a nod to Ken Giles, the goat has to be Luke Gregerson.  Gregerson has been really solid this year, but in a tie game tonight, he threw a fat pitch to Robinson Canó with the bases loaded, and that was enough to send the Mariners ahead by plenty.

It may be worth mentioning that Carlos Gómez struck out three times - once on a pitch that bounced in the dirt before the plate, and the other two pitches wouldn't have been within a foot of the strike zone.  If Gregerson hadn't melted down, that performance would have been goat-worthy.

Up Next:
Game Two of the Mariners series.  Doesn't get any easier!

Taijuan Walker (2-1, 1.80) versus Doug Fister (2-3, 4.60)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.