Dallas Keuchel (2-6, 5.92) versus Jered Weaver (4-3, 5.33)
So the Astros, after getting well-beaten in the first game of the series, try to bounce back against the Angels today. The main participants in this battle are two guys who are proven ML starters, but who are having rough seasons. Weaver struggles to bust 86-mph on his fastball, and Keuchel seems to be struggling with location, missing mid-thigh too often this season, in contrast to his Cy Young 2015, which was based on being at-or-below the knees, and infrequently and purposefully elevating above that only occasionally.
The Astros stacked their lineup with lefties tonight, which meant Castro behind the dish, Valbuena at first, Moran at third, and Kemp in left. One lefty missing, however, was Colby Rasmus, which may be something to do with the 20 plate appearances that have yielded a .059/.200/.118 line against Weaver. Marisnick batted ninth, and got the start in CF.
The Astros, after being down early, came back to earn the tie, then the lead, eventually winning 4-2. That forces a rubber game tomorrow.
On the Mound:
Keuchel looked good to start the game, retiring Yunel Escobar on a grounder to second, and getting Kole Calhoun on a soft pop up to third base. But that brought up Mike Trout, and he worked the count to 2-2 before getting a pitch away and mid-thigh. The RF power-ally was not enough to hold the drive - it only just got out, but it was enough. That tied the game and brought up Albert Pujols, and he also worked the count full before hammering out out to the LF power-alley to take the lead. The pitch was meant to be an inside fastball, but Keuchel missed down and arm-side, and the result was a pitch low in the strike zone but over the middle of the plate. Pujols entered the game hitting a Valbeuna-esque .219/.298/.404, but hell, against the Astros he seems to hit 1.000/1.000/4.000, so of course he homered to extend his record as the player who owns the most career home runs against the Astros (now 52).
A leadoff single by Giavotella was stranded at second because ex-Stro Gregorio Petit went down on a back-foot slider, Pérez grounded to second (advancing the runner) and Shane Robinson grounded back to the mound. At this point, Keuchel was struggling to keep his pitches down a little, and missing arm-side a little as well, but he opened the third locating a little better, retiring Escobar and Calhoun, before getting Trout on a pop-up behind first base on a changeup off the plate, down and away. Keuchel retired the side in order in the fourth inning, all on balls caught, one of which was a line-drive off the bat of Albert Pujols. The 7-8-9 hitters were retired in order in the fifth, two on strikeouts. Keuchel - after a rough first frame, had settled into a bit of a groove.
So Keuchel opened the sixth frame with a lead, and the top of the order up for the third time. Yunel Escobar was leading off the frame, and he was tossed on a 1-2 count for showing up the home-plate ump. Caleb Cowart was the poor bench guy who had to face Keuchel with two strikes already on him, and he struck out on the most unenthusiastic swing ever against a back-foot slider. Calhoun followed with a grounder, and Mike Trout went down foul-tipping a high fastball.
With the solo home runs in the first inning a rapidly fading memory, Keuchel was given the opportunity to pitch to bottom of the seventh. He didn't disappoint, getting a couple of groundouts to third base and a grounder back to the mound to retire the side in order. That quietly ran his batters-retired streak to 18 at this point, and left him at 106 pitches for the night, so he handed over to the 'pen to open the eighth.
And the man from the 'pen was Pat Neshek, who got the bottom of the order - all righties. Neshek, entering the night, had a 0.061 opponent average against righties, was a solid choice for this part of the game, and he didn't disappoint, setting down the only two batters he faced. When Mike Scioscia pinch hit for Shane Robinson with the lefty Ortega, Kinch countered by calling on Tony Sipp, and he did his bit by striking out Ortega.
The left Gregerson to complete the save, and two groundouts back to the mound made it look good early. Mike Trout grounded out just past the mound to end the game (to short), and that meant the last 24 Angels hitters were retired in order - another solid night from a resurgent Astros pitching staff (aside from one lone inning last night).
At the Plate:
The Astros set their offense to "efficient" for a rare occasion on the season to open the game. George Springer saw five pitches before he doubled down the LF line on a breaking-pitch down-and-away, Jose Altuve moved him up to third base on a CF warning-track flyout, then Carlos Correa slashed an elevated 1-2 pitch the other way to score Springer on a grounder to second. Correa looked like he was trying to direct the ball that way, and the result was scoring a runner from third with less than two outs. Miracle! Evan Gattis finished the frame by striking out looking on a pitch just off the plate away.
Jered Weaver faced the minimum in the second, despite a perfect Luis Valbeuna bunt to lead off the inning. Colin Moran grounded into a perfect 6-3 double-play, and Jason Castro hit a hard-liner to RF to end the frame. Some two-out action in the third - Marisnick and Kemp were both retired on fly-balls into the outfield before George Springer dumped an end-of-the-bat bloop into LF for a single, and José Altuve walked on four pitches before Carlos Correa hammered a hard line drive that Gregorio Petit at short leapt and snatched out of the air to end the frame. Petit clearly no longer wants a job in the Astros organisation.
The fourth inning was remarkable for Jered Weaver exploiting the generous glove-side strike zone of Vic Carapazza. Colin Moran recorded the final out of the frame on a hard drive right down the throat of the RF Calhoun - Moran looks to have solid bat control, and looks like a candidate to take advantage of a shift, much like he did (twice) yesterday. He stung this pitch, but placed it poorly in the outfield.
In the fifth inning, Handsome Jake (2-4) reached on an infield single to the right side, and stole second with Tony Kemp (0-3, BB) at the plate (who subsequently walked). That turned the lineup over and brought up George Springer for his third look at Jered Weaver on the night, and he singled through the 5.5 hole to load the bases for José Altuve. Altuve responded by hitting a high fly ball just short of the warning track that advanced both Kemp and Marisnick, levelling the scores at twos. Correa (0-4) was the final out of the inning on an end-of-the-bat bloop down the RF that Calhoun made a running play on.
The Astros took the lead in the sixth frame. Evan Gattis (0-3) led off by being hit by a pitch. Truthfully, I think he leaned into it a little, and he was probably reassured by the idea that Weaver's pitch was not going to leave a bruise. Luis Valbuena joined Gattis on base with a five-pitch walk, and Colin Moran followed by slashing at the first pitch he saw, grounding it to second for a 4-6-3 double play. The wisdom of going after the first pitch when the opposing pitcher seems to be struggling with command is debatable. But that brought up Castro, and with a 2-2 count, he saw a fastball down in a zone but in the middle of the plate. He hammered it, with the ball landing on the batter's eye in dead CF, scoring Gattis and pulling the Astros ahead 4-2.
A José Altuve single with two outs in the seventh was the only action against Angels reliever, Mike Morin. Altuve (1-2, BB, SF) singled through the 5.5 hole on a high, inside fastball - Morin promptly got his revenge by picking Altuve off first with Correa in a two-strike count. Morin stayed on to retire the first two hitters in the top of the eighth, before Mike Sciascia opted to head to the 'pen for some lefty-on-lefty violence. Luis Valbuena was having none of that, so he responded by dumping a single into the LF gap, and Hinch countered by pinch-hitting MarGo (0-1) for Colin Moran. MarGo struck out for the final out.
Lefty Jose Álvarez stayed on for the ninth frame, and he retired Jason Castro (1-4, HR) on strikeout looking on a ball that was a great pitch, but out of the zone. Handsome Jake followed by dumping an end-of-the-bat single into LF on a changeup down-and-away, but he was erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Tony Kemp. Springer grounded out to end the frame.
Jason Castro on Jered Weaver, game tied at twos. Fifth pitch of the at-bat, 1-2 count. Castro has been good in May, but poor in the last few days, chasing balls off the plate again. Weaver tried to bust Castro down and in, the ball leaked arm-side over the middle of the plate, and Castro hammered it to the batting eye for the decisive blow of the game.
Man of the Match:
... is co-awarded to the two best standout performers, with a nod to the abovementioned Jason Castro. George Springer went 3-5 with a double, raising his batting line to .274/.364/.492. Luis Valbuena continued his hot form, going 2-3 with a walk. OBP is king, and any time you can get on base three times in a game, that is worthy of MoTM consideration.
Dallas Keuchel bounced back well, too, after a rough start.
Goat of the Game:
Colin Moran went 0-3, grounded into two double-plays, and nearly killed one rally (which was saved by the offensive awesomeness of Jason Castro).
On the Morrow:
Rubber match against the Angels
Doug Fister (4-3, 4.12) versus Nick Tropeano (3-2, 2.68)
3:30 Eastern, 2:30 Central