Taijuan Walker (2-1, 1.80) versus Doug Fister (2-3, 4.60)
So Game 29 didn't end well for the Astros, and they entered this game 1-0 down in a long series with the AL West leaders, with perhaps the worst pitching matchup of the series. Taijuan Walker has feasted on the Astros throughout his young career - his first three major-league wins all came against Houston, and he possessed a 5-1 career record versus the Astros with a 3.96 ERA and 58 strikeouts against 15 walks in 50 innings pitched. That includes his April 25 home start against the Astros, which ended in a Walker win and a Fister loss. The Astros were poised to find themselves in a series-losing hole, halfway through an important early-season home-stand.
But Walker wasn't himself tonight, allowing home runs in the first two innings, then exiting the game with a neck spasm after two frames. The Astros added on, weathered the Mariners coming back to make a game of it before responding with an insurance run that proved too much for the Mariners to overcome. The result was a 6-3 win, and the Astros equalled their second-best winning streak of the young season while levelling the series.
On the Mound:
Someone kidnapped the sinker balling, pound-the-bottom-of-the-strike-zone, ground-out specialist Doug Fister, and replaced him with a guy that pitches up in the zone and gets outs on fly balls. Sadly, the guy they replaced Doug Fister with still only throws in the mid-80's, but he was strangely effective tonight against a left-handed-heavy Mariners lineup. I wonder whether he shelved the sinker because of all the lefties. Bizarro Doug Fister did pretty well!!
Fister ended up allowing three earned runs on six-and-one-third innings, but all runs scored after he had exited the game. He shut the Mariners down through six innings, allowing a single in the first, a single in the third, and a walk and a double-play in the fifth. In the remaining innings, the Mariners were set down in order.
What was odd about Fister's night was the profile of his outs. He retired batters early on fastballs up in the zone - for example in the second, he made sure all of the outfielders brought their gloves by getting fly-outs to LF, RF and CF in order. His eventually balls-in-play outs ratio was 8-8, so he retired the same number of hitters on fly balls as he did on grounders. He struck out three, and walked two, but he also seemed to allow a lot of deep counts late in his outing.
Fister departed with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and a 5-0 lead, but he wasn't helped by either himself or his defence earlier in the inning. Robinson Canó grounded out to short for the first out, then Fister grazed Nelson Cruz's right forearm with a 1-2 pitch up and in. Cruz took first, and on the following pitch headed to third on a Kyle Seager double to the RF gap. Springer looked to have it under control, but he pulled up, and Gómez made a weird sprawl toward the ball, spilling the catch onto the warning track. It seemed that there may have been some miscommunication between the outfielders, and the end result was runners on second and third, with Adam Lind (another lefty) up with first base open.
Fister pitched around Lind - all fastballs out of the zone away - while Pat Neshek warmed up in the 'pen. Lind proved to be Fister's last batter, and Neshek came on to pitch to Chris Iannetta, the catcher, with the bases loaded.
As Astros fans know, offence from good defensive catchers is much appreciated, and when Iannetta stung one into the 5.5 hole, it looked like a big moment in the game. But Carlos Correa made a great play, diving to his left, and cleanly gloving the flat line-drive. That was the second out of the inning, so the bases remained loaded for Ketel Marte. Marte got a 1-1 pitch low in the zone and over the plate, and he roped it down the RF line. Springer was playing toward the gap, and by the time he flagged it down, Marte was standing on third, and the bases were otherwise empty. That made the score 5-3 Astros.
Leonys Martín popped out on the infield for the last out, then Will Harris relieved for the eighth. Because of Sipp's game off, the Astros don't have a lefty in the 'pen - the only other lefty on the 40-man is Dallas Keuchel - which is a major weakness against a lefty-heavy Mariners lineup. Anyhow, Harris crowded the lefty hitters inside, and retired the side on a soft liner to LF (Aoki), a strikeout (Smith) and a fly-out to CF (Canó).
Gregerson had a horror outing last night, and a one-out single was his only blemish in facing the minimum in his bounce-back performance tonight. A 4-6-3 double-play was the final play of the night, and the Astros headed home with a much-needed win.
At the Plate:
The Astros got out to an early lead against Taijuan Walker, then constantly asked questions of Mariners 'pen that was asked to take the final six frames. José Altuve opened the game by blowing the best scoring opportunity of the night, and grounding out to third base. Altuve - given how hot he has been recently - almost starts the game in scoring position, but he was unable to advance himself around the bases and record another lead-off home run.
Carlos Correa, however, picked him up. It was apparent early that Walker's velocity was down - he constantly sat around 90 with his four-seamer - and when he tried to bust Correa inside with a thigh-high fastball, Correa hit a line-drive to RF that got out, about two rows back, right over Seth Smith's head.
The second frame opened with a promising start, when Evan Gattis reached on a Ketel Marte error. Carlos Gómez bunted toward the first baseman Lind, who fed to Canó covering first, and Gómez's head-first slide was slightly late. That moved Gattis into scoring position, and after Luis Valbeuna flew out to the base of Tal's Hill (the second Astro to do that in the first two frames), MarGo took a 3-0 fastball on the outer part of the plate, and hit a flat line drive that just snuck out, again right over the head of Seth Smith in RF. That represented MarGo's first multi-run home run in his career (after 25 solo shots), and the Astros led 3-0.
Two-out walks punctuated the third and fourth innings, but neither runner advanced. The Astros scored a pair in the fifth. The inning opened well for the Astros when the Mariners were unable to hold back the hot bat of Jason Castro any longer. Castro hammered a ground ball through the shift (just kidding, the hit was far more about location, but the ball was hit pretty hard). With one out, George Springer chopped one the other way, through a large gap on the right side, advancing Castro. The Carlos Correa singled to a similar spot in RF, scoring Castro, who was probably mortified to see Gary Pettis wave him around third. The throw wasn't good - Seth Smith didn't seem to get much on it - and Castro was just safe after his front leg dug into the batters box and bounced over the base, with the tag arriving just after his back leg touched the plate.
Anyhow, both runners advanced on the throw, and Springer tagged and scored easily when Rasmus hit another fly ball to the base of Tal's Hill. Evan Gattis (0-3) struck out for the third out on a breaking ball that bounced.
In the sixth, more TOOTBLAN's. MarGo (2-3, BB, HR, 2B) doubled with two outs, off the LF scoreboard, and the ball bounded a fair way back into play. He pulled up at second, and may have regretted not going to third. Anyhow, he immediately addressed any regrets by breaking for third on the next pitch, and was easily thrown out trying to steal for the last out. An alternative theory is that MarGo is kind of slow for a middle infielder, and perhaps that was his attempt at a triple. That stole an RBI opportunity from Jason Castro's hot bat - feel free to respond to the bait such as this in the comments below.
The Astros loaded the bases in the seventh with one out. Altuve walked, Springer (2-4) and Correa both singled through the 5.5 hole. Then Colby Rasmus (0-3, 2RBI) hit a moderately-hard grounder to the left of Canó at second, and he made a valiant attempt to turn a double-play, with the throw to first just a little late. Altuve scored, and the Astros tacked on an insurance run.
The Astros threatened in the ninth with a lead off and one-out walk, but Castro (1-4) and Altuve (0-4, BB) were unable to drive Gómez (0-2, BB) in from second base.
It helped a lot that Walker was off his game in the first two innings. Then things looked really comfortable for the Astros tonight, as Doug Fisher was hammering the lefty-heavy Mariners lineup with four-seamers up and away, changeups, and curveballs. I wondered about a complete game for a while. But things turned in the seventh, when Fister allowed a one-out HBP and a double on consecutive pitches, then walked Adam Lind to load the bases. Chris Iannetta was looking for something to hit hard against Pat Neshek, and he got a low fastball that he hammered into the 5.5 hole. But Carlos Correa stretched out and made a great play to snare the line drive, and record the second out. Sadly, the Mariners baserunners were disciplined, and Correa was unable to double off any of them.
Man of the Match:
Doug Fister weakened his case for the MoTM with a rough seventh inning. Excluding Fister, two clear candidates here. While MarGo managed his first career multi-run HR in the second inning (later recording a double and a walk) the clear winner is Carlos Correa. Aside from the abovementioned catch, his defence was solid all night, and he managed a 3-3, BB, HR night at the plate, recording two RBI's. His efforts at the plate have looked pretty good for the last few weeks, and tonight represented further progress.
Goat of the Game:
All Astros hitters (except Rasmus, who had two RBI's) got on base tonight, and all the pitchers were pretty solid. No Goat, for the first time this season.
The Astros try to equal their longest winning streak of the season against the Mariners, in Game 3 of 4 (and until the Astros win three in a row, the win-streak jokes will keep on coming!)
Nate Karns (3-1, 3.81) versus Dallas Keuchel (2-4, 5.11)
7 Eastern, 6 Central.
MLB.tv Game of the Day, as well.