The Astros came into tonight's game desperately seeking a win, any win, any way they could get one. It helped, on paper, that they had the good fortune of drawing Aaron Brooks and his 6.91 ERA as their mound opponent for the A's. And as it turned out, the scoring began early with a pitch that Colby Rasmus absolutely destroyed into the second deck of the O.Co Coliseum.
In the fourth inning, Rasmus would strike again. After Evan Gattis singled to lead off the inning, Colby ripped a double down the right field line. Following a Marwin Gonzalez pop out into shallow left field, Hank Conger ripped a single to left field to plate both runners, pushing Houston's lead to 3-0. George Springer then continued his slow re-adjustment to Major League Baseball by hitting into a broken-bat fielder's choice, with Hank Conger being cut down at second base and George reaching first, visibly frustrated with himself. He'd have a chance to run out his frustrations, however, as Jose Altuve would then rope his second double of the night into the left center field gap - scoring a flying, helmet-less George Springer all the way from first.
That drove the score to 4-0 in favor of the Astros.
McHugh was very economical, if not truly overpowering, in his first four innings of work. He struck out four batters and walked two while allowing just one hit through his first four innings, needing 63 pitches to that point of the game.
However, after a very long top of the fifth inning in which the Astros added three more runs and faced three different pitchers, McHugh served up a fat fastball in the heart of the plate to Billy Butler to begin the bottom half of the fifth, and Butler crushed it over the right field wall for Oakland's second hit of the game, and first run. It has been noted that there are nuns who go to second base faster than Billy Butler...but when Butler plays to his strength, all he has to do is trot.
Marcus Semien then blooped a single just past a diving Jose Altuve before Carson Blair advanced him to second with a swinging bunt with Semien running on the pitch. Then, that pesky Billy Burns worked a six pitch at bat that culminated in an RBI single to right field. Finally, Josh Reddick crushed a 3-2 pitch that was right down the middle over the right center field wall - in almost the same spot that Butler homered to. The Reddick home run served to finish knocking the wheels off what had previously been a good start for McHugh, who finished his evening with 100 pitches thrown in 5.1 innings of work, allowing six hits, five earned runs, two walks, and recording five strikeouts.
Chad Qualls entered in relief of McHugh with Brett Lawrie on first and promptly threw a wild pitch to allow Lawrie to advance to second, allowed an RBI single to Billy Butler, struck out Marcus Semien for the second out of the inning, and then struck out Carson Blair to end the inning.
Will Harris pitched the seventh inning and allowed back to back singles to Burns and Mark Canha. Josh Reddick then bounced into a fielder's choice, with Canha being cut down at second and leaving runners at the corners with one out for the Astros-killer Danny Valencia, who was 0-3 on the night before mercifully striking out to run his evening's stat line to 0-4. Brett Lawrie then popped out to Correa in short left field to end the threat.
Pat Neshek pitched a perfect eighth inning before Oliver Perez entered in the bottom of the ninth and pitched a perfect ninth to close the book on this slugfest.
Also of note in this game, at least to this writer, was the first appearance of the year for switch pitcher Pat Venditte against the Astros. His first batter faced was the switch-hitting Jed Lowrie, who batted left handed to meet Venditte's right handed approach. Lowrie lined out hard to right fielder Josh Reddick (he of the laser cannon arm) who very nearly threw out a tagging Carlos Gomez at third base. Then Evan Gattis muscled a fly ball just far enough to bounce off the foul pole against Venditte (still throwing right handed) for his 23rd (and team-leading) home run before Colby Rasmus turned Venditte around to pitch left handed. Rasmus would walk on a 3-2 pitch, and Marwin Gonzalez would follow right-handed (Venditte remained with his left arm for the confrontation) and double to right field, moving Rasmus to third with only one out. Following this, Hank Conger - who chose to bat left handed even after Venditte declared that he'd be pitching left handed - drove a fly ball to center field which was plenty deep to drive Rasmus home with the Astros' seventh run of the game. That would end Venditte's brief and extremely forgettable outing for the A's.
Other notable offensive notes for the Astros:
- Carlos Gomez continued his crusade to hit the baseball into an alternate dimension with each of his swings, and his efforts netted him a double - his third consecutive game with a double and his fourth double in seven games in September. He'd add a monstrous home run to left center field in the top of the sixth inning (his third as an Astro) for good measure.
- George Springer's difficulty re-adjusting to major league pitching reached a fever pitch in this game, as he was 0-4 by the end of the fifth inning, when he hit a 399 foot fly ball into Billy Burns' - who made a good play on the ball - glove to the 400 foot dead center of the Coliseum.
- George Springer, Carlos Correa and Jed Lowrie combined to go 0-14 on the night with one walk, a hit by pitch, and two runs scored, but every other starter had at least two hits.
- Marwin Gonzalez's third hit of the night was a laser beam into the left center field bleachers on a fastball literally right down the middle from Fernando Abad. It was his tenth home run of the season, which makes him the eleventh Astros player to reach double digits in home runs this season - which makes the 2015 Astros the first team since the 2004 Detroit Tigers to have eleven players reach double digits in home runs. Jed Lowrie and Jake Marisnick remain within striking distance of double digit home runs, also...and if either or both of them can reach the milestone, the all time record belongs to the Astros. Also of note, all ten of Marwin Gonzalez's home runs have come when he has been a starter...and he was also batting .302 in Astros wins coming into this game - a game in which he logged three hits.
- The Astros appear to have found a new way to celebrate home runs - and they got plenty of practice in this game, as they hit four. Picture of the night goes to the MLB instagram account. Here's my retweet of it:
- With the win, the Astros' lead over the second place Texas Rangers is once again two games.