The Astros, following the last-minute deadline deal that sent Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez to Miami, were playing one of baseball's hottest teams with a 23-man roster. Jake Buchanan was forced to make a spot start in favor of Cosart, who had actually been the night's scheduled pitcher prior to the deal.
If, on the heels of the trade, the emotion of the loss, the rookie being forced on to the mound at the last minute, the Astros had come out looking flat and dead and simply not put up a fight, it wouldn't have been a shock. It might have been expected, even.
But the Astros, in fact, looked good. They came ready to play, and battled the entire game. At no point did the game seem lopsided or out of reach, and in fact Houston seemed in control more often than not. But that's what makes the loss hurt, when before the game started, there wasn't much expectation of a great showing.
If nothing else, tonight, combined with the middle game of the previous series with Oakland, serves as a reminder of how important the bullpen is, and should make us all feel better about the decision that was made to not trade Tony Sipp or Chad Qualls at the deadline. These games hurt, severely, and we've had bitter memories of 2013 dragged to the surface of our minds once more in the last few days.
A 4-2 lead after two innings was a pleasant surprise, but it didn't feel safe, certainly not after that Oakland disasterpiece on Tuesday. Sure enough, the Blue Jays came back, scoring in consecutive innings to tie it up. The Astros actually staged a rare rally though, retaking the lead immediately in the bottom of the sixth. But it wasn't meant to be. Josh Fields, lights-out since returning in May from AAA, was killed softly in the eighth, and one swing in the ninth off of Qualls was enough to spoil the entire day.
Qualls will be the goat tonight, as is the burden of all closers; misplaced first-pitch fastballs down the gut while the Crawford Boxes wait a tantalizing 315 feet away tend to lead to results that stick in the craw, and the last man to screw things up is usually the first man to have the finger of blame aimed his way. But blame can be spread around this night.
The Blue Jays plated a run in five innings in which Qualls was not on the mound, with Sipp being the only one of Houston's five pitchers to toss in the game without allowing a Toronto runner to cross the plate. Jose Altuve went hitless in five trips to the plate. While Toronto stranded just three of their own runners, Houston stranded seven.
Situational hitting has been a constant issue throughout the year, and the string of injuries suffered by the club in July has only made things worse. With Dexter Fowler and George Springer both on the disabled list, the loss of Hernandez to the Marlins loomed big. Would he have driven in one of those stranded runners tonight? We can't know. But the pain of the loss makes us grind our teeth at the thought.
They could have been flat, under-staffed and over-matched, and it would have washed over us, not dampening the joy of the move made earlier in the day. But instead we were allowed to believe before being crushed. As a fan of the Houston Astros, did you expect less? Probably not.
Yet we look tomorrow to better things. Jake Marisnick will be in uniform, and GM Jeff Luhnow spoke of the nearing of Michael Foltynewicz. A better day awaits. Let's hope it's tomorrow, because right now, this night, there's yet but more pain.