Joules Chacin (3-4, 5.00) versus Doug Fister (7-3, 3.26)
Opening a series at home against an AL West opponent will nearly always lead to an interesting result, and tonight was no different. The Astros got out to an early lead, added on through the middle innings and built enough of a cushion to sustain a late Angel surge to win by a score of 10-7. Doug Fister did most of the heavy lifting, while the bats went into rally mode, and, like, strung some hits and walks together early in the game. Then they hit some long balls. All round, a solid win, as the Astros closed within one game of .500 for the first time since they were 3-4, on April 11.
As an aside, the Astros have been pretty good since May 24, posting a 17-7 record with a +27 run differential over that time. And speaking of run differential, before the Astros haemorrhaged seven runs over the last four innings in tonight's game, they briefly ran their season-long run differential to +1. So progress is being made, both in terms of the peripheral and supporting stats, and in terms of the win-loss record.
On the Mound:
Doug!! Fister!! Fister was awesome tonight, completing seven innings of work for the cost of two earned runs (more on that later) by way of four hits (two doubles) and two walks, while striking out five. He worked around a two-out error and walk in the first, retired the side in order in the second, allowed only a one-out single in the third, retired the side in order in the fourth, faced the minimum in the fifth by virtue of a GIDP, but finally sustained some damage in the sixth.
And in the sixth, with one out, Kole Calhoun walked before Mike Trout flew out for the second out. That brought up Albert Pujols who loves him some Astro pitching, and on a 2-2 count he hammered one to deep CF. It was a line drive but there didn't seem to be anything tricky about it. Carlos Gómez took a terrible route that curved through 90 degrees, initially starting across, then having to track back toward the wall at right angles to try and make the catch. Of course he muffed it, Calhoun scored, Pujols trotted into second without going much faster than walking pace. Pujols then scored when C.J. Cron hammered a double off the pillars in the LF power-alley. A defensive Gómez brain-melt essentially cost Fister a couple of runs.
But Fister didn't pout. He ascended the mound for the seventh and retired the side in order, eventually throwing 108 pitches en route to his eighth win of the year.
Michael Feliz got the eighth, and he gave up Johnny Giavotella's sixth home run of the year. Inside fastball that was meant to be away but leaked arm-side, and Giavotella mashed it out onto the concourse in LF. Tony Sipp got the ninth - he hasn't pitched since the St Louis series - and he immediately allowed a runner to reach on an error, then two cheap singles before striking out ex-Stro Carlos Pérez. That brought up another ex-Stro Gregorio Petit, and he wasn't feeling as kind as Pérez. When Sipp threw an elevated slurvy slider, Petit turned on it, dumping a high fly ball into the Boxes for a Grand Slam.
I used to love Petit when he played for the Astros. He is kind of like that ex-partner that you weren't sure about breaking up with, but you did so anyway, then they lost 15lb and started to look damn fine in a cocktail dress (or gained 15lb and looked damn fine in a muscle shirt, whichever you prefer). Petit is clearly not a major-league great, but sometimes he brings back warm memories, and this swing was one of those occasions. Bringing ourselves back to reality, Pat Neshek relieved, and retired the last two for a save, with Hinch seemingly unconcerned about having a closer at the moment (and good on him, I say!)
At the Plate:
Lots to write about here. The Astros scored three in the first on a Springer walk, a MarGo HBP, a wild pitch advancing both baserunners, a grounder, an RBI grounder, an RBI single and another RBI single. Eight batted in the first inning. More baserunners in the second - two one-out walks, but an Altuve GIDP ended the threat. Three more runs in the third, all of which scored before an out was recorded: a walk, a bunt single against the shift, an RBI single, an RBI double, and an RBI single. A Castro strikeout and Springer double-play ended the threat.
So, six runs scored in the first three innings, all while the Angels committed two errors (both of the kind where the runners advance on poor throws) and the Astros managed to get their best two bats to GIDP to account for four of the nine outs. Five singles, one double, one HBP and five walks were how it all happened. The game was pretty much done at that point, and the Astros changed their offensive output from OBP-centric to extra-base centric.
An Altuve homer with one out in the fourth was the first example of this. This was not a cheapie - Mike Morin was meant to throw a fastball down and away, it leaked up and in to middle-middle, and Altuve hammered it. The ball left the stadium by hitting the CF wall right below the CF camera well just to the left of Tal's Hill - estimated at 441ft, and I would have loved to have seen whether it left the stadium if it was hit to the absolute deepest part. Hammered. First Altuve HR since June 6. May 5 was the one before that.
Carlos Correa was next up in the homer parade. After an Altuve single, Correa took a hanging slider on an 0-1 count, and deposited it off the top of the Community Leaders sign in the LF power-alley. Jason Castro followed with a home run leading off the seventh - his was off a low fastball away, which he hammered the other way onto the concourse, hitting just above the yellow line. That put the Astros into double figures, and ended the home scoring for the night.
The Astros managed OBP all up and down through the order. At the top, Springer went 0-2 with 2xBB, while MarGo went 1-3 with a BB and HBP. Through the middle was were all the hits were: Altuve went 2-5 with a home run, Correa went 2-3 with a walk and a home run, Colby Rasmus went 3-5 and Carlos Gómez went 3-4. Down the bottom of the order, eight hitter Evan Gattis (!!) and nine-hitter Jason Castro went 1-4, with Castro hitting a home run while contributing through stellar defence.
The Astros needed to make a statement early, and they did so against Jhoulys Chacín, managing a dozen baserunners before he left after 2+ innings. That got the Astros into the Angels' 'pen, too. If it hadn't been for the Astros generously GIDP-ing twice, the third inning could still be going on.
Man of the Match:
Doug Fister will be the sexy pick for this, and so he should be. He has only had one start out of 13 when he has allowed more than three runs, and that was on his second start of the season.
Luis Valbeuna is the less obvious pick - he had a stellar night with the bat, going 2-3 with 2 walks and a double. Entering this game, since May 24 when he was batting .197/.288/.316, Valbuena has mashed to the tune of .316/.409/.592, with three doubles and six home runs. That is a hot month, which co-incides nicely with the Astros' ascension back toward .500. His season line now looks a much more reasonable .250/.347/.434.
On the Morrow:
Hector Santiago (4-4, 5.30) versus Collin McHugh (5-5, 4.89)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.