The Houston Astros played a very good game tonight. There are many things one can point at and say, "Yes. This is what the fans have waited to see since 2005." But the story of tonight's game is not the Springer Dinger, nor Jared Cosart's eight innings pitched, nor Matt Dominguez' defensive wizardry, nor Jonathan Villar's 9th-inning error.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus published a re-draft of the 2012 draft. Eschewing the obvious Correa/Buxton combo, BP writer Harry Pavlidis selected catcher Mike Zunino first overall to the Houston Astros. His reasoning:
We've discovered that Zunino has special framing and blocking abilities, so he's already an impact player. If his on-base skills develop, he could be one of the hidden elite players in baseball
That pick generated more conversation in the comments section than anything else in the article. The re-draft, for some reason, did not consider players already on current teams, and only talent. The selection of Zunino seems primarily on his pitch blocking and framing abilities, both of which he excels at.
But Astros fans, I hope you watched the clinic that Catcher Jason Castro put on tonight. Starting Pitcher Jarred Cosart pitched wonderfully against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, generating twelve ground ball outs in eight shutout innings and allowing but one walk. But watching the game, one got the sense that the game could have progressed much differently. Castro knocked down so many pitches in the dirt, that I lost count of them. He took a serious beating. It got to the point where CSN game-callers Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum were marveling about Castro's night by the seventh inning. In addition to saving easily a dozen wild pitches, he continued framing pitches well, and by mid-game it seemed as if he and Cosart had expanded the umpire's strike zone a good two inches lower than the official zone definition.
If you are a coach or a parent and want to teach your child how to play the catcher position about as well as it can be played, give them a playback of Astros vs. Rays on June 20, 2014.
As for the rest of the game, it moved along pretty quickly, as both Cosart and Rays' pitcher David Price mowed down batters in their respective fashions - Cosart with the ground outs and Price with the strike outs, of which he tallied eleven in eight innings.
The only scoring needed for Cosart to earn the Win came on a jaw-dropping Springer Dinger in the third inning off Price. George Springer hit one of the most impressive homers that this baseball fan has ever seen. It landed on a catwalk near the Left Field ceiling of the Trop, at the same level as the top of the foul pole and easily twenty feet above the highest level of seats in that area of the park. Do yourself a favor and watch/listen to the highlight. On-Air estimates reported that it traveled 450 feet, but one tingles to consider how far it would have traveled had it been allowed to land on flat ground.
In the ninth inning, the artist formerly known as Leo Nunez came on for the Rays. Nunez/Oviedo had allowed but one home run in 24 innings this season, and generated two quick groundball outs. Villar ended an 0-8 personal schneid by bopping a home run over the right-center field wall, extending the lead.
Chad Qualls came in for the 9th and allowed an unearned run to score after a sloppy error on a routine play by Villar, but finished things out to save the Astros' win over the Rays, with a score of 3 to 1.
Player of the Game: Jason Castro (Honorable mention to Jarred Cosart, since this was really a dual performance.)
Play of the Game: Springer's Monster Shot