A valiant fightback effort was wasted late as the Houston Astros fell in the Heritage Park leg of their home-and-home with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, losing the game 6-4 and the series 7-5 on aggregate.
The Houston club are relegated to the consolation round of the Florida Cup to play BC Toronto in a Thursday-Friday tie.
After the 1-1 draw yesterday at the Space Coast Ground, A.J. Hinch made heavy changes for the second match. He brought on Springer and Gomez for the woeful Marisnick and Aplin in the outfield. Hinch also sent danger-man Correa -- who notched the Astros only tally in the first leg with a magnificent drive which would have been the envy of the PGA professionals playing a half-hour's drive up the road -- and the spicy Altuve to the substitution list for new-boy Bregman and team talisman Marwin Gonzalez.
On the back of yesterday's clean sheet by Dallas Keuchel, the Astros had a draw in their pocket and a priceless away-run, a solid foundation on which to build their Cup dreams. Such was Keuchelangelo's mastery of the Nats' hitters that Dr. Collin McHugh must have felt pressurized to follow on The Garden Gnome's masterpiece with one of his own. He could not make good, however, allowing a three-run third that put his side in an early deficit, though it could have been much worse.
Hinch's new mix of players worked no magic in the early going, seeming awkward in attack against the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez, until Marwin Gonzalez struck from distance to lead off the fourth, arching a blast over the left-centerfield wall that saw the Astros close the gap to 3-1. As the terraces were still ringing out the Astros anthem "Marwiiiiiin, he scores when he wants, he scores when he wants!" a further rally was blunted by a Castro lineout into a double play.
The Astros missed their chance to change the game in the fifth inning, as they loaded the bases with none out and a run safely in on a single by Gonzalez, only to see Carlos Gomez, the club's big signing during the transfer period last season, fluff his lines, grounding into a double-play back to the mound.
In the eighth, after the yeoman's relief work of Cotts and the masterful Devenski kept the Nats' offence in diapers, the Astros struck for a go-ahead brace in the eighth. After a pair of walks, a single by Eury Perez knotted the match, scoring pacey outfielder Tony Kemp from second. Substitute Preston Tucker then validated his gaffer's decision to bring him on for Springer, squeezing a ground ball through the defence to give the South Coast club the lead, 4-3.
But a victory was not to be. Hinch called on Jake Buchanan, on loan from the lower-division Fresno Grizzlies, to see out the game, and he was found wanting on this day. Four Washington hits, including a game-settling two-RBI double by Clint Robinson, gave the Nationals a lead they would not relinquish.
NEXT: For the Nationals, a 1:05pm Eastern first-pitch with Miami, and calls to see if anyone wants Golden Sombrero-wearer Jayson Werth.