After the Astros got shut-the-heck-down by Rich Hill last night, they wanted to bounce back fast to level the series against the A's. Taking the mound for the A's was ex-Stro (well, ex-Astro farmhand) and 2014 fourth-round pick of the Astros, Daniel Mengden. Mengden is getting some time in the major-leagues this year, mostly due to injuries and lack of depth from the Oakland rotation. He certainly isn't getting lit up, and that continued tonight, as for a while he looked like the ex-girlfriend who lost 15lbs and now looks great in a cocktail dress / the ex-boyfriend who gained 15lbs of muscle and now wears tank-tops to Astros fans. Plus, some serious major-league facial hair.
But, really, this was not about the starting pitchers at all. It was a horrible night to be a closer in this game, as Will Harris and Michael Feliz conspired to give up a five-spot then the Astros came back with some closer-pounding of their own. The final result - on a topsy-turvy night - was a 10-9 win to the Astros, on one of the more entertaining games of the year. On to the recap...
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh was solid, without being spectacular. His night was exactly in line with his 4.50 ERA - 6IP, 10 baserunners (8 hits, 2 walks) 4 runs / 3 earned runs, 3 strikeouts He left in the seventh, approaching 100 pitches (98) with two men on.
Aside from the seventh, McHugh was only really in trouble in the fourth frame. He allowed a double-short-of-the-cycle in that inning. Danny Valencia led off the inning with a clean single into RF, then Stephen Vogt took a low breaking ball - not a bad pitch, really - and hammered a shot that bounced off the wall on the RF side of CF. The outfield was shaded the other way, so that was pretty much right in the gap between Springer and Gómez, at it wound up being a triple. Billy Butler followed with a clean single through the 5.5 hole, scoring Vogt, still with no outs. Yonder Alonso made that two outs, clearing the bases with a GIDP. Marcus Semien then homered just to the CF side of the vertical yellow line in the LF power alley - the pitch was a 2-2 fastball that was meant to be inside, but ran a little arm-side, and Semien hammered it. Billy Burns followed with a foul-out to third.
Prior to this, McHugh and Mengden where duelling scoreless innings. McHugh looked like he was coming out on the wrong side of the contest, as he was labouring a bit and working around baserunners, whereas Mengden looked damn sharp. McHugh allowed a lead-off single in the first, a one-out single in the second, and a one-out bunt single in the third (damn Jed Lowrie!!). Then the fourth inning happened - see above - but McHugh responded by setting down the side in order in the fifth and sixth, on 24 combined pitches. McHugh then allowed a bloop single leading off the seventh, then walked Marcus Semien on four pitches before yielding to Ken Giles.
Giles was sharp - continuing his recent run of solid outings - and he set the next three batters down on a fielder's choice and two strikeouts. Sadly, the fielder's choice advanced the lead runner to third, and Castro later allowed a passed ball on a slider that snuck under his glove to score the runner for an unearned run. Giles looked overpowering, however, which bodes well for the second half of the season.
If Giles looked sharp, Gregerson looked great. Side in order, 10 pitches, with everything darting down. Will Harris came on to save the ninth and he
Khris Davis took a ball, then hammered a double into the LF power-alley off the visiting bullpen fence, scoring both runners. Josh Reddick followed with a line-drive single to RF that resulted in Davis scoring. The ball was cut off, and Reddick was erased at second trying to take the extra base. Danny Valencia struck out with the bases empty for the last out, but when the smoke had cleared, Harris and Feliz combined to allow a five run inning, four of them "credited" to Harris. Ouch. The Astros entered their half of the ninth trailing 9-7.
At the Plate:
Daniel Mengden looked great to start the night, working a 95mph fastball, an 82mph change-up with some arm-side run (which made it look a little screwball-like at times) and a 78mph breaking ball to both sides of the plate. I was looking at the location of the pitches, and he threw some seriously quality strikes, painting the edges on both in and away, and locating down in the zone when needed. It was no surprise then that he mowed the Astros down in the first two frames.
Mengden was in trouble in the third for a wee while. He walked A.J. Reed (0-2, BB) on four pitches (truthfully, two were strikes that the umpire wasn't sharp enough to call) and then hit Handsome Jake to put two on with no outs. All that did was spur Mengden into action - he responded by striking out the side - Castro looking on a nice curveball, Springer swinging on a fastball down the pipe and MarGo swinging on a 1-2 changeup. Nasty.
Mengden was touched up in the fourth. José Altuve blooped a single into CF, then Carlos Correa took a 1-0 fastball inside, and hammered it off the balcony where the Home Run counter (in the form of a gasoline bowser) is. That was an important shot from Correa, as it put the Astros on the board, and erased two-thirds of the nightmare fourth for McHugh. Later in the frame, Mengden wore a hard line-drive back up the middle off his right pectoral muscle. Carlos Gómez hit the ball, and showed immediate concern for Mengden, but Mengden had recovered to retire Gómez on the force and end the frame with a strikeout of A.J. Reed.
The Astros continued their assault of Mengden in the fifth. Handsome Jake (1-3, HBP) singled to LF to open the inning, then Jason Castro (1-3, BB) dumped one into CF to put runners on the corners. George Springer (0-4, BB) walked, loading the bases with no outs. MarGo ambushed Mengden with a first-pitch line drive up the middle, scoring one and tying the game. José Altuve (2-5) reached out and slapped a first pitch breaking ball down-and-away to short, and only one out was recorded (at second) on the resulting slow roller. Carlos Correa (2-5, HR) followed with a single to CF - he was caught in a run-down between first and second which was abandoned when Altuve tried to score from third. The A's executed the rundown and throw-home perfectly to nab Altuve, who had little choice but to try to advance. However, Correa was safe at second, and he scored when Luis Valbuena singled down the LF line against reliever Marc Rzepcztnski, who had been brought on for some lefty-on-lefty violence. Four runs had scored in the frame, and the Astros held a 6-3 lead.
The Astros were retired in the sixth and seventh with only a MarGo (2-5) single to break the monotony, but they managed another run in the eighth when Luis Valbuena singled to third base, Carlos Gómez (0-3) bunted him to second, and Danny Worth (1-1, subbing for A.J. Reed, pushing MarGo to first base because Altuve was DH-ing) hit a clean single up the middle. That made the score 7-4, but after the Will Harris nightmare, the Astros entered the bottom of the ninth both stunned and trailing 9-7.
Ryan Madson was on the bump for the A's, and he started by retiring MarGo on a drag bunt for an attempted base hit. Not the worst idea in the world from MarGo, but Madson made a solid play while not allowing the ball to sneak past him. José Altuve followed with a first-pitch single to CF, then Carlos Correa followed him by swinging at a 3-2 breaking pitch that landed short of the LH-hitters batter's box. The pitch was too good for Correa... but also too good for the catcher Vogt, and it bounced all the way to the screen. Correa beat the throw to first, and that brought up Luis Valbuena.
The game lasted exactly one more pitch. Madson's plan was to bust Valbuena down and in with a fastball. Madson missed his spot, elevating the pitch slightly, locating it on the inner third and mid-thigh. Valbuena turned on it. We have seen a lot of perfectly timed pulled fly-balls from Valbuena lately, and this drive landed in the first row of the second deck. Valbuena's swing has been a thing of beauty over the last few weeks, and his moment can be relived over and over here.
I thought the fourth inning was the turning point. Mengden had been cruising, and the A's had put up a three-spot with some nice hitting against Collin McHugh. Altuve reached leading off, and Correa crushed one to CF, narrowing the deficit. Mengden struggled after that, perhaps due to Gómez's rocket that caught in him the rib cage later in the inning. Regardless, Mengden was only able to record two outs in the fifth, and the Astros eventually won the game against the A's bullpen.
Man of the Match:
Luis Valbuena, of course. 3-5, HR, 4RBI. And what a shot. Watch it over and over and over and....
Goat of the Game:
Will Harris doesn't tend to live in the Goat column. Tonight he managed to blow a two run lead, allowing his first three extra-base hits of the year (2 x 2B, HR). His ERA now sits at an unsightly 1.66. Thankfully, Valbuena bailed him out.
The Astros can ensure a drawn series heading into the ASB with a win tomorrow.
Kendall Graveman (4-5, 4.57) versus Lance McCullers (4-2, 3.57)
Waiting for Lance to start commanding that fastball. Then we will have something rolling.
4 Eastern, 3 Central.