Tyler Wilson (2-2, 3.68) versus Collin McHugh (4-4, 5.13)
Right. So the Astros secure the second series of the last three, both within the first two games of the season. When they aren't getting swept by division opponents and interstate rivals, they can be a good side!! They equal their season high win streak - again, at two - and again - if you want me to shut up about it, win a third damn game!! The starting pitching was solid, the bullpen shut down the O's again, the bottom of the order produced, Evan Gattis looks better when he has something to do other than sit on the bench, and Luis Valbuena is suddenly hot. Those components, plus the sheer number of errors from the O's contributed to the Astros getting a much needed May win, and perhaps there is some hope for 2016 after all.
Astros win, 4-3.
On the Mound:
McHugh's last start was pretty darn good, but as you may remember, he got bested by the amazing Chris Sale. The interested reader may also recall that McHugh pretty much got singled to death on 0-2 curveballs in that start, so how he finished batters was going to be interesting tonight. I wondered whether the White Sox were expecting a lot of curves in put-away counts, so I expected to see McHugh trying an assortment of other pitches with two strikes against the O's.
McHugh didn't start well tonight, allowing doubles to the first two batters he faced, both on two-strike counts. Manny Machado hammered an inside-fastball into the RF power alley that got to the wall, resulting in a stand up, lead off double. Jonathan Schoop got a two-strike curveball that he hooked into the LF corner, scoring Machado for the first run of the game. McHugh settled down, getting Adam Jones to ground to the right side for the force, Chris Davis to strike out, and Mark Trumbo to ground to third base to limit the damage in the opening inning to one.
More baserunners in the second, with Matt Weiters hitting a leadoff single, then Hyun Soo Kim walking with two outs. McHugh bounced back to get Manny Machado to strike out in a full count to end the frame - this was an inside curveball that Machado swung over the top of. McHugh retired the side in order in the third, which included strikeouts of Adam Jones (0-2 curveball down) and Chris Davis (2-2 curveball down). More strikeouts in the fourth - Mark Trumbo on a 1-2 cutter away and Pedro Álvarez on an 0-2 back-foot curveball
McHugh worked around a leadoff double in the fifth, when he missed glove side with a fastball to the lefty Kim that should have been down and away. But he bounced back with strikeouts on Manny Machado (2-2 cutter away) and Jonathan Schoop (0-2 elevated fastball) before getting Adam Jones on a popup for the last out.
McHugh's "Waterloo" inning was the sixth - a combination of deep counts, errors, missed plays and balls that dropped. The inning started with a full count to Chris Davis, who singled on a rolling curveball to RF. Mark Trumbo followed with a single to LF (Kemp was charged with an error, and Trumbo rolled into second) before Matt Weiters struck out on a 2-2 curveball in the dirt for the first out. With Pedro Álvarez at the plate, McHugh buried a curveball that Gattis was unable to keep in front of him with his chest protector, and the runner from third scored. Two pitches later, Álvarez grounded a swinging bunt down the first base line, and not for the first time this season, an Astros first baseman made a poor decision on the play. In this case, MarGo rushed in, couldn't glove the ball before Álvarez got past him, knocked McHugh's glove off, then waited too long before trying to get the force at first anyhow. No out was recorded on the play, Trumbo scored from third, and the game was tied.
With McHugh sitting at just over 100 pitches, Hinch elected to go to Neshek, and he responded with a clutch strikeout of Nolan Reimold for the second out. Hyun Soo Kim then doubled - Neshek has no business pitching to lefties - and Manny Machado was walked to load the bases. Jonathan Schoop went hunting the first pitch, and the result was a broken-bat bloop to Correa for the final out.
And that was it for the Orioles scoring, despite having at least a baserunner an inning for the next three frames. Ken Giles struck out the side while allowing a one-out walk (including two strikeouts on sliders down, and one on a nasty inside fastball that Mark Trumbo was way late on). Will Harris struck out the first two hitters he faced before he allowed a single and a mid-count intentional walk, before getting Jonathan Schoop to ground out. And Luke Gregerson struck out two in one scoreless frame, working around a one-out double - just off the LF scoreboard out of the reach of a leaping Rasmus - that put the game-tying run in scoring position with one out. A harmless groundout to second base ended the game. If you are counting at home, seven strikeouts in three frames from Astros relievers tonight.
At the Plate:
The Astros started the game with a couple of baserunners - both reaching on Machado errors - but were unable to capitalise after Colby Rasmus GIDP'd. They went down in order in the second, and tied the game at ones in the third. MarGo opened the frame with a single to the RF wall that Nolan Reimold played perfectly to hold González (1-3) at first. Tony Kemp executed a sac bunt just well eoungh to get MarGo to second for the first out, then George Springer (1-4) singled into CF to drive MarGo home. Altuve (0-4) and Correa were both unable to significantly advance Springer, so the Astros only managed one run in the frame.
The Astros took the lead in the fourth. Colby Rasmus tried to surprise Tyler Wilson with a bunt down the 3B line, but he pretty much just knocked it back to the third-base side of the mound. Tyler Wilson couldn't glove it cleanly, and Rasmus (0-4) reached on a leadoff error. Evan Gattis pounced on a 2-1 count as the next batter - the pitch was a 91mph mid-thigh fastball over the middle of the plate, and Gattis pulled a hard, low line drive into the Crawford Boxes. More baserunners in the inning - Tyler White singled to LF - really an error on Machado and Tony Kemp (1-2) hit a hard single back up the middle, but neither hit resulted in a run.
The Astros went down in order in the fifth, and entered the sixth tied at threes. That tie lasted two batters - Tyler Wilson struck Evan Gattis out on a buried curveball, and enticed Tyler White (1-4) to a flyout to CF. Then Luis Valbuena (1-3, HR) increased his season home-run total by 33% by hammering a 1-1 sinker down-and-away into the LF power alley. The result was a towering fly-ball that hit above the archway in the LF power alley. It didn't get out by much, but it clearly hit above the yellow line (right beside the famous fan with the amazing moustache) and the Astros took a vital 4-3 lead. His fourth of the season, and two in as many nights. It would be great if he stayed hot for a month or so.
The Astros went down in order in the seventh, and in the eighth they worked around two doubles to not score. Impressive, huh?? Carlos Correa (1-4, 2B) was erased trying to take third for the second out of the inning. Both Gattis (2-4, 2B, HR) and Correa beat the throws into second by the tiniest margins, too. An insurance run would have been nice, but Astros fans can't have nice things. Sigh.
The Astros put all sorts of pressure on Tyler Wilson in the fourth frame. But despite three hits (including a home run) and one reached-on-error, they only managed two runs. That two runs gave the Astros enough of a cushion to weather a mistake-ridden sixth frame in the field, and re-take the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Then the Astros bullpen was nails.
Man of the Match:
There is something about the Tools of Ignorance that Evan Gattis seems to agree with. I have read that his appearance belies the fact that he is a pretty cerebral player, so perhaps all that pine-riding when he is DH isn't what he needs. He did well again in a backup role catching McHugh tonight, and giving Jason Castro a night off. But man, those offensively-minded Astros catchers pull the team through again, huh?
Goat of the Game:
Things I like about MarGo at first: his scoops of low throws, and diving plays.
Things I don't like about MarGo at first: his impulsive rushes in on slow rollers, and his tendency to range too far off the bag on grounders to second. He engaged in the latter in the first frame (although the Astros still recorded the out), and the inning was extended in the sixth after the engaged in the former. In defense of MarGo, however, he was trying to keep the tying run from scoring, and rushing that ball was the only way that would happen. Still, it looked ugly from everyone involved - a real keystone cops play - but the Astros were still able to record the win.
On the Morrow:
The Astros go for the sweep, and a season high three game winning streak!! Battle of a couple of highly-touted young starters, too.
Kevin Gausman (0-1, 2.70) versus Lance McCullers (0-1, 5.91)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.
After that, the Astros head to Anaheim for a series against Mike Trout and the Angels.