Okay, so a four game sweep wouldn't make up for a four game sweep in a World Series from almost eight years ago, but the Astros won their third game in a row behind some solid performances on Saturday night. Lucas Harrell continued a stretch of good starts, turning in 6 and 2/3 innings, allowing three runs and striking out seven, a season high. Luke improved to 5-7 on the season, and has turned in four straight starts of three runs allowed or less. Most importantly, he only walked one, and had his sinker running up to 95-96 MPH with good bite.
Harrell had a rough first inning, and looked like it might be a repeat of his Saturday start against Oakland a few weeks ago when he was tagged for six runs in 1 2/3 innings. He allowed an RBI single to Paul Konerko, but settled down until the seventh as he faced the minimum from innings 2 and 6 with the help of a double play.
The Astros offense only chipped in six hits, but five of them went for extra bases, giving the pitching staff just enough to work with. Ronny Cedeno smoked an RBI double in the second to tie the game at one. Jason Castro and Chris Carter added a solo home run each in the fourth. Castro's deposited his ninth homer to his favorite spot in the Astros' bullpen, while Carter's fourteenth was crushed to left and hit the foul pole. When's the last time an Astro hit the foul pole? And why do the foul poles need sponsorships on them?
The difference in the game came off the bat of Brandon Barnes. Barnes hit a double down the rightfield line in the fifth inning, driving in Matt Dominguez. Barnes hasn't been spectacular in the leadoff role but he's done some good things. He owns a .271/.326/.403 line to date; he's not hitting consistently for average (only .237 in the last ten days) but he's had his fair share of extra base hits this season and his .729 OPS is pretty good for a leadoff man.
The Astros bullpen provided some needed reinforcement and was instrumental in tonight's win. After Harrell ran into some trouble after he ran out of gas in the 7th (he finished the night with 106 pitches) Paul Clemens struck out Alejandro De Aza on three pitches and a couple of nasty curveballs to end the threat.
Wesley Wright was brought in after Alexi Ramirez doubled to open the eighth and induced an Adam Dunn ground out. Dunn hit his 18th home run off Harrell earlier in the game, but couldn't come through for the White Sox. Hector Ambriz then quited the haters after he ended the 8th inning threat by inducing a groundout from Jeff Keppinger. Ambriz has had his fair share of detractors over the last few weeks, but he's actually been pretty good, lowering his ERA from 5.66 to 4.88 over his last 7.1 innings.
The ninth was just as adventurous as the previous two innings, courtesy of Jose Veras. The big man walked Dayan Viciedo, then induced two swinging strikeouts. Then, Veras spun and picked off pinch-runner Jordan Danks who had stolen second base, capping off the game with a walk-off pickoff.
At first glance, it looked like Danks was safe, but a closer look revealed Cedeno got the tag down just in time. Regardless, the White Sox have been pretty sloppy these first two games, throwing away a chance on Friday with errors in the field and tonight on a bad baserunning mistake and an inability to take advantage of the Astros bullpen. The Astros didn't do anything spectacular tonight, but the offense provided a few runs and the pitching was again solid. If that holds, we'll win continue to win our fair share of ballgames this year.
Leistomania409's MVP of the Night: The bullpen! Because there probably won't be many more chances to give them this award for the rest of the season.
Leistomania409's LVP of the Night: Mitch Williams. Look, I'm not going to complain too much because I finally get to see the Astros on TV. But Mitch was adamant that Clemens' funky set during his delivery was a balk, and talked straight through Jeff Luhnow's segment in the booth in the bottom of the fourth. C'mon man!