On a night which saw Collin McHugh pitch well enough to win while the offense was good enough to work three runs across home plate, Astros fans nationwide surely were happy breathe a sigh of relief. After such a difficult six game stretch leading up to the All Star Game which saw the Astros lose the first place position in the AL West that they'd held since April, it was a welcome sight indeed to see a solid - if unspectacular - game on both sides of the ball.
That's not to say everything was perfect, obviously.
After striking out Delino DeShields to start the game, Collin McHugh gave up four consecutive singles in the first. Luckily for McHugh and the Astros, Rougned Odor most unwisely decided to test the arm of Jake Marisnick on a single to the gap in left center field on the first of the four singles. After Marisnick gunned him down at second base, and three consecutive singles loaded the bases with two outs, McHugh got Josh Hamilton to bounce out to end the inning. That was the kind of night it would be for McHugh - outside of striking out the side in the 4th inning, McHugh was rarely dominant in this game - but he was good enough to space eleven singles out and allow only one run to the Rangers.
That lone run came on a strange play in the top of the sixth inning: Mitch Moreland hit a high chopper that bounced over Jon Singleton's head (the second of three hits on the night for Moreland) and then, it appeared that Jon Singleton lost focus briefly and was out of position for Colby Rasmus' throw back in to the infield. The ball bounced off Moreland at first and skipped away, allowing Adrian Beltre to score from third.
On the offensive side of the ball, Evan Gattis got things started in the second inning by crushing his team-leading fifth triple to deep center field, just off the glove of the rangy Leonys Martin. Coincidentally, Gattis himself might have been thrown out at third but for a sub-par relay throw from Elvis Andrus which bounced off the small of Gattis' back and skipped away. And just like that, the Astros team leader in triples, Evan Gattis, extended his number of triples to five for the season.
Yes, Evan Gattis has five triples. "What is life?" does indeed seem a reasonable musing in this situation.
Following the triple and a strikeout of Colby Rasmus, Jon Singleton walked and LJ Hoes slapped a solid single to right field and just like that, the Astros had a lead they'd not relinquish.
In the bottom of the third inning, Jake Marisnick led off with a double and Jose Altuve pushed him across the plate with a double of his own over Josh Hamilton's head in right field. Then something happened which has resurrected some debate amongst Astros fans: Marwin Gonzalez laced a solid single to center field, Jose Altuve hesitated for a split second to ensure he'd not be doubled off at second, and then seemed surprised to see a green-lit windmilling arm from third base coach Gary Pettis, who has developed quite the reputation for aggression with his decisions to send runners from third. Altuve followed his coach's instruction and bolted for home, where he was thrown out by several feet.
There is a school of thought, as evidenced by this article by Russell Carleton from Baseball Prospectus, that makes a statistical argument that aggression - even to the point of recklessness - could actually be a desirable thing by the numbers, leading to more runs scored overall...even with some miscues.
There are those in the Astros fanbase grumbling, however, because it was pretty clear to most who were watching that Jose Altuve - on this particular play - was going to be out by several feet at home. And it was particularly troublesome to those Astros fans because the very next hitter, Carlos Correa, singled to left center field and scored Marwin Gonzalez, who had advanced to second on the play at the plate. Then Evan Gattis followed with a single to center field of his own, thus virtually ensuring that, at least in this particular situation, a slightly more conservative approach would have resulted in an additional run. As the game was ultimately decided on a solid defensive play off the bat of Prince Fielder in the top of the ninth inning with the tying run on first base, that extra run certainly could have had major implications in this game.
Convincing arguments for both sides have ensued online and on social media, and TCB encourages our readers to weigh in in the comments section with their thoughts on this controversial issue.
In other news in this game, Chris Carter rolled his right ankle in the second inning after a ground ball caused Jose Altuve to range far to his left, field, and throw on the run - badly wide - which pulled Carter off the base and caused him to roll his ankle, resulting in his leaving the game and Jon Singleton replacing him against the left-handed pitching Martin Perez. This replacement worked out pretty well for the Astros, all things considered, though it initially appeared that it might be disastrous. Singleton ended his night 1-3 with a walk and made a fine pick in the dirt to record the final out of the game on the back end of a fine play by Carlos Correa.
Collin McHugh's final line: 6.0 IP, 11 H (all singles), 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K's, 97 pitches (66 for strikes)
Double Plays On Tap
The Astros grounded into three different double plays tonight, but managed to get some fairly entertaining retribution after former Astro Delino DeShields recorded the Rangers' 6th hit of the night and then took off for second in an attempted steal...and he slid in head first while Rougned Odor was flying out to Colby Rasmus in right field. DeShields didn't pick up the ball well off the bat, apparently, and started to try to get back to first but Rasmus doubled him off while Jon Singleton executed a nice (and rare) stretch to receive the ball from the right fielder.
The Astros and Rangers will continue their three game dance tomorrow at Minute Maid Park at an unusual time, 6:10 PM CT. Scott Feldman will make his return from the disabled list to start against his former team, while Colby Lewis - owner of the best WHIP against the Astros in history - will take the mound for the Rangers.