Rich Hill (8-3, 2.31) versus Doug Fister (8-5, 3.66)
It has been an almost unbelievable late-career resurgence for Rich Hill, the ace of the A's staff in 2016. After throwing 471 career innings yielding for the decade between 2005 and 2014 with an ERA of 4.72, Hill parlayed 29 innings of solid pitching (1.55 ERA) for the 2015 Red Sox into a 6MM payday for the A's. And he has more than earned his money, throwing 70 innings of quality ball for the Athletics, and looks poised to be the premium starting pitching rental heading into July should the A's choose to trade him.
Because of a strained groin, Hill sat out the month of June. This is his second start back from the DL, so it was always going to be watched by legions of scouts from around the league. Doug Fister counted as the unlucky opponent - he seems to have been matching up against other teams' aces a few times recently.
This was a fascinating contest. Both teams scored runs early, and after the initial shenanigans, both starters settled down and pounded on the opposing lineups. The game fair flew by as hitters were retired with ease. In the final wash-up, the Astros found themselves on the wrong side of the deficit - a 3-1 loss. The Angels and, uh, A's won, the Mariners lost, and at the time of writing, the Ramgers have a six run deficit with six outs to go, so we should chalk them up for a win. On to the recap.
On the Mound:
Doug Fister managed a fantastic game tonight, going eight strong innings, allowing only three hits, walking three, and allowing two runs. He only managed to strike out two, but part of that was due to his ruthless efficiency in retiring batters in a left-leaning A's lineup. He retired the side in order in five innings - the first, third, fourth, sixth and seventh frames to be exact.
The main problem with Fister's outing is that all of hits were pretty much clustered into the same inning. Additionally, two of the hits were awful BABIP luck (although there was nothing cheap about the third hit). Leading off the second, Danny Valencia threaded a broken-bat single up the middle, between Altuve (shaded to the left side) and Correa (playing toward the hole). It wasn't hit hard, but was perfectly placed, and Valencia took first.
Following him, Khris Davis blooped one over the head of José Altuve into RF, but short of George Springer. That put runners on first and second, still no others. Stephen Vogt followed with a five-pitch walk - Fister was trying to pitch him away, and the ball kept running off the plate. Bases loaded, no outs. Marcus Semien grounded into a double-play, but it was of the 6-4-3 variety, and therefore Valencia scored from third, levelling the scores. Yonder Alonso followed with a deep drive into the LF power alley, which hit off the fence in front of the visitors bullpen. That resulted in a double, Khris Davis scored from third, and the Astros faced a 2-1 deficit. That is how the score remained until Alonso's next mighty drive.
As mentioned, Fister allowed two of the next 20 hitters to reach, both on walks. Neither progressed past first base. He was about as dominant as it is possible to be while trailing in a close game.
The A's managed to tack an insurance run on in the ninth, and it was mostly due to self-inflicted wounds. Tony Sipp opened the frame, and he allowed a hard smash up the middle off the bat of Josh Reddick, the lead-off hitter. Carlos Correa was perfectly positioned, and he made a fabulous backhanded grab on the short hop. It was an incredible piece of glove-work. Correa then straightened and threw to first... but the throw sailed out of the range of A.J. Reed, and Reddick reached. Neshek relieved, and retired the next two before IBB'ing lefty Stephen Vogt. That brought up righty Marcus Semien, but Neshek was unable to find the zone, and Semien walked.
That brought up Yonder Alonso - who hammered a loooooong home run against Neshek earlier in the year in Oakland. Neshek was up to the task today, getting to a 2-1 count, then blowing him up inside, breaking his bat. The only problem is that the ball was so softly hit that it bounced just short of the dirt toward second base, and none of the infielders were able to make a play. Reddick scored, and the A's had insurance. An unearned run, by courtesy of Correa's throwing error.
At the Plate:
This won't take long, as Hill worked around three hits and two walks in an effective outing. The difference between Hill and Fister is that Hill retired 10 Astros hitters on strikeouts - so that when the Astros did manage to put pressure on Hill, he was able to retire them without the ball being put in play. Nice way to circumvent needing to rely on his mercurial defence!!
The hardest-hit ball of the night was off the bat of George Springer. He led off with a triple onto the left side of Tal's Hill. Truthfully, the triple said as much about Coco Crisp's declining range as it did about Springer's bat, but Springer was on third with no outs, and he scored when the next batter - Marwin González (0-4) - grounded one to the right side on a 2-2 count. A nice piece of situational hitting, but sadly this was the only run the Astros would score.
Luis Valbuena (1-3) singled with one out in the second, but he was unable to advance. The side went down in order in the third and fourth, and Handsome Jake (1-2) singled to CF with two outs in the fifth. Springer (1-3, BB) led off the sixth with a walk, then Carlos Correa (0-3, BB) joined him - also via the walk - with two outs, but Carlos Gómez (0-4) went down looking on a fastball away.
John Axford retired the side in order in the seventh, Ryan Dull in the eighth, and Ryan Madson in the ninth. Madson only needed six pitches. Stellar effort by a perfect A's bullpen.
Any time the Astros came to the plate after the first batter of the game. As mentioned previously, George Springer hammered one to CF, and cruised into third. He was the only Astros baserunner to get that far tonight, such was the dominance of the A's pitching staff.
Man of the Match:
Springer reached base twice - the only Astro to do so. Doug Fister had a seven-inning no-hitter going if you exclude the top of the second, but baseball doesn't work that way, so that pretty much means nothing. Still, Springer and Fister were the standout Astros tonight.
Goat of the Game:
Castro and Gattis both went 0-3 and struck out twice. I watched Castro's at-bats closely - Hill was changing arm angles and throwing all sorts of combinations, so Castro's performance was partly attributable to the platoon disadvantage. Gattis had no such handicap, and neither did Gómez (0-4, 2K). Feel free to anoint none of those three as the Goats.
Game 2 against the A's.
Ex-stro Daniel Mengden (1-4, 3.48) versus Collin McHugh (5-6, 4.50)
8 Eastern, 7 Central.