Robbie Ray (2-4, 4.67) versus Mike Fiers (3-3, 5.20)
So during my couple-days out of the Office of the County Clerk, the Astros have quietly run their win-streak to four (entering this game), and started their march up the AL West ladder. The Constable pointed out in the last couple of days that the Astros have won... but so have the remainder of the teams in the AL West, so no ground has been made. Well, as one sharp and handsome reader pointed out, lets not worry too much about the other teams in the AL West, but lets just rejoice in the fact that the Astros seem to be putting together some solid baseball for the first time in a while.
And it continued tonight. The Astros pitched well, and their offensive prowess - whilst not perfect - gave them a bit of a lead heading into the late frames. That lead was blown, but note is made that the Astros had worked hard to give themselves enough insurance that they could withstand giving up a few runs late in the game. That took them to extra innings, and the Diamondbacks' relief staff blinked first, giving up a run in the bottom of the 11th to end the night. Astros win, 5-4. Win streak at five. Six-point-five games back of the Ramgers, and a half-game ahead of the Angels. This is what 2016 was supposed to look like - long may it last.
On the Mound:
Mike Fiers didn't start well, but his defense recorded some vital outs early in the game. The last five innings was all Fiers, and he ended up covering-off 6 innings, allowing 4 hits and 2 walks, giving up one run and striking out seven. Typical Fiers start - kept the team in the game, and gave them a chance to win, but nothing too flashy. What was different for this Fiers start compared to the others in 2016 was (i) he didn't give up any extra-base hits, and (ii) the defense helped him immensely.
Example: Jean Segura led of the game with a walk, then was gunned down trying to steal second by Evan Gattis The Catcher (great tag from Carlos Correa, too). Another example: Michael Bourn walked with one out in the first, then tried to go first-to-third on a Paul Goldschmidt bloop single into CF. Carlos Gómez declined to allow that, as he grabbed the ball on the first bounce with his bare hand, and gunned it to Valbuena to catch Bourn sliding into third. Fiers then found his groove, and struck out Jake Lamb to end the frame.
Two strikeouts bookended the D-Backs half of the second, and Fiers allowed the lone run in the third. A one out single advanced to second on another one-out single (two great plays from Marisnick in LF to hold the runner at first, then nearly get the careless runner off second), then the runner tagged up on a fly out to CF, which Gómez made a nice play on in front of the pillars beside the visiting bullpen. Then with a runner on third, Fiers missed down and away with a fastball that Gattis reached for, but the ball bounced off the end of his glove. The batter, Paul Goldschmidt, lined out two pitches later (a diving play from Handsome Jake in LF), so perhaps the run could have been prevented.
Fiers faced the minimum in the fourth and fifth - the latter down to a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play, again thanks to Evan Gattis The Catcher. Fiers ended the sixth strongly, striking out Michael Bourn and Paul Goldschmidt (both on splitters) to end the frame.
Giles got the seventh, and he sandwiched a couple of strikeouts around a runner-erasing defensive gem from George Springer, who defied the laws of physics to shift the direction of his bodyweight to make a perfect throw to Correa at second, who tagged out Richie Weeks Jr. A Giles fastball down-and-away turned into a bloop single into the Bermuda Triangle behind first base, and Springer retrieved the ball on the first bounce, heading into foul ground. He spun, fired a strike to Correa, who only needed to drop the tag on Weeks. Impressive arm strength.
Will Harris got the eighth, and he retired the side in order, lowering his ERA to 0.36 in the process. His scoreless streak continues to grow, and sits at 23-and-one-third, by my count.
Luke Gregerson got the ninth with a three-run lead, and he "hit" Jean Segura with a pitch - the ball probably hit the knob of the bat, not the hand - but Hinch declined to challenge. The next batter was Michael Bourn, and he doubled on a 1-2 hanging slider into the RF corner, scoring Segura. Paul Goldschmidt was retired on a hard smash to first, then Jake Lamb took a similar pitch to Bourn's pitch - a first pitch hanging slider - and deposited it into the Astros' bullpen for a game-tying, too run shot. Five of the nine Mike Lamb home runs have come in the ninth inning this year.
So that tied the game, and Pat Neshek came on to clean up the rest of the ninth. He allowed a bloop single before setting down the next two hitters. Extra innings is Feliz Time, and he continued his dominance - retiring the side in order in the tenth (ten pitches, nine strikes) and eleventh (including strikeouts of Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Lamb). He probably would have gone in the twelfth as well, but was not needed....
At the Plate:
The Astros looked like the April Astros in the early part of the game, stranding José Altuve at second with one out in the first, and loading the bases with one out and not scoring in the third (Correa and Gattis struck out on fastballs away to end the frame). A Carlos Gómez single and stolen base with two outs was the only action in the fourth, before they took the lead in the fifth. Another rally with two outs, as José Altuve hit his second double of the game (off the LF stands), Carlos Correa singled him in on a line drive the other way, and Altuve (2-4, 2x2B, BB) slid around the tag to score. That brought up Evan Gattis The Catcher, and he hammered the second pitch he saw (a 1-0 changeup down and in the middle of the plate) off the Community Leaders sign above the Crawford Boxes. The pitch was down and out of the zone, and Evan Gattis The Catcher (1-5, HR, 2RBI) went down and got it, hitting a flat shot with a heap of backspin that got out by plenty.
The Astros went down in order in the sixth before George Springer led off with a ground rule double to RF in the seventh. He couldn't advance past third, however, as the next three hitters went down on a groundout, a strikeout and a groundout respectively. In the eighth, MarGo (starting at first) was HBP to lead off the frame. He advanced to second on Valbuena's (0-4, BB) walk, then advanced to third on Carlos Gómez (1-5, SB) line drive that was caught deep in CF by Michael Bourn, who seems to know the MMP OF dimensions really well, for some reason. That put runners on the corners for Tony Kemp, who pinch-hit for Tyler White against tough side-arming righty Brad Ziegler - Kemp jumped on the first pitch he saw, driving it deep enough to LF for MarGo (1-4) to score without a throw. Vital insurance run.
With the game tied in the ninth, Carlos Correa (2-5, 3B) hit a two out drive off Ziegler which hit the bullpen fence in RF about one foot shy of getting out. Correa cruised into third with a triple, but he was stranded after Evan Gattis flew out to CF off the end of the bat. In the tenth, Tyler Clippard struck out the side, and he stayed on for the eleventh, retiring Tony Kemp (0-1, RBI) on a grounder to second base, and striking out Handsome Jake (0-4). That brought up George Springer, and...
George Springer has not yet had a walk-off home run in his career. Clippard went with a first pitch breaking ball, which crossed the plate down-and-in, and Springer stuck with it, hammering it into the LF power alley. The ball hit of the façade above the concourse there - a decent sized blow - and that ended the ballgame. Gatorade showers swamped the throng of players at home plate. Boom.
Man of the Match:
After a shout-out to Michael Feliz and Evan Gattis The Catcher, George Springer is the only logical choice. Two-for-five, with a walk, a double, a home run, and an outfield assist. George Springer in May: .296/.404/.548, 8 HR, 5x2B, 19 walks versus 30 strikeouts. He has been great lately, and the pitching has been good enough to allow Springer to win games at the plate with nights like this one.
Springer gets extra points for trying to injure the pitcher with shards of broken-bat, like he did in the first inning.
Goat of the Game:
Luke Gregerson, who seems to be either shut-down or melt-down at the moment. Slider looked like a concrete mixer, rolling up there.
Everyone seems to want to talk about Ken Giles to close, but what about Will Harris?? Anyhow, Gregerson is certainly a very good ML reliever, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent as of late.
Does anyone else think that if Carlos Correa had busted it out of the box in the ninth, he could have scored an inside-the-park HR for the walk off win??? I would be interested in garnishing opinion. Comments below.
On the Morrow:
Final game of the Home-and-Home series against the Astros' "natural rivals", the D-Backs. A stellar pitching matchup if both the starters return to 2015 form, too.
Zack Greinke (6-3, 4.71) versus Dallas Keuchel (3-6, 5.58).
2 Eastern, 1 Central.
Then the A's come to town. The A's are also current riding a five-game win streak.