The game time temperature was a frigid 36 degrees (according to the box score on the MLB app) to start the first game of what Astros fans hope will be a red-hot 2016 season. Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez both looked hilarious in thermal headgear that barely showed their faces, and apparently (in Gomez's case, at least) affected the fit of their helmets. I'm going to keep a running tab during this piece of the number of times that Carlos Gomez literally swung out of his helmet.
In the top of the first inning, Jose Altuve had himself a solid lead off at bat. He took the first pitch for a ball and eventually grounded out to short. I say it was a solid lead off at bat because he saw six pitches from Masahiro Tanaka, which is better than a one pitch outcome from the perspective of a lead off hitter getting a look through the pitcher's repertoire for the benefit of subsequent hitters. George Springer followed with a less-desirable outcome, popping out to center field early in the count. Carlos Correa then struck out, the first of several on the day for Tanaka.
In the bottom half, Dallas Keuchel struck out the first hitter he saw (Jacoby Ellsbury) for a promising start to the season. He then walked Aaron Hicks on four straight pitches, showing that Keuchelangelo was having a rough time getting a feel for the cold, hard, 108-stitch rock in his left hand early in the game. It all worked out well, however, as Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play to end the inning. Jose Altuve made a slightly wide throw to first - it wasn't only Keuchel who had an issue with command of throws, both teams had nearly-errant throws early.
In the top of the second, the Astros went in order meekly. Colby Rasmus broke his bat grounding out softly, Carlos Gomez swung out of his helmet twice (count is up to two already) and Luis Valbuena grounded out to first softly.
When it came to the bottom of the second, things didn't go well. The wheels didn't fall off completely, they just didn't go well. Keuchel survived a loud fly ball to left field from Mark Teixeira to start the inning. The wind kept it in the yard. Then Carlos Beltran nubbed a doffer just to the right of second base to beat the shift and record the first hit of the game. Brian McCann walked, and Dallas Keuchel blew on his hands again. Then, Chase Headley served up a perfect double play ball right to Carlos Correa's feet, and Correa booted it. Carlos recovered in time to barely get Headley at first, but both other runners moved up to second and third. The error (not in the box score, but in results...I'm sure Carlos would agree that was a play he should have made, cold weather or not) would, as errors so often do, come back to bite the team - Starlin Castro followed in the eight spot with a two run double to left field, and just like that, the Yankees had the lead. Didi Gregorius grounded out to end the inning.
The Astros went back to work in the top of the third inning, looking for their first hit. Preston Tucker very nearly got it with a gorgeous swing, blistering a ball to left field (we see you going the other way with solid contact, Preston...well done) that was unfortunately right at the left fielder, Aaron Hicks. Marwin Gonzalez followed with a weak grounder to first that Teixeira bobbled (in fairness to Correa, there was a lot of this in the game today) and Jason Castro flew out to shallow left center field.
Masahiro Tanaka sat down the Astros in order the first time through the lineup, and made it look really easy in the process.
Heading back out for the bottom of the third, Keuchel was surely looking to attack back with a vengeance after allowing two runs that never should have crossed the plate. Ellsbury, in his second at bat, decided he was momentarily sated of his thirst for Vitamin K and popped out to Luis Valbuena at third instead. Aaron Hicks got tired of looking at pitches after his four pitch walk in the first and...nah, just kidding, he struck out looking. Alex Rodriguez returned to the plate, and then trotted to first base with a 3-2 walk after Home Plate Umpire Dana DeMuth missed a called third strike on a 2-2 pitch. Keuchelangelo had an uncharacteristic third walk on his ledger for the day at that point. Alex Rodriguez then stole second base easily despite the nearly unbeatable tandem of Keuchel and Castro because Marwin Gonzalez was not holding him on first base at all - he got a monster lead. Of course, most people don't expect Rodriguez to steal bases anymore. Mark Teixeira worked a good at bat and drew a walk, and Keuchel's pitch count grew to 57 pitches in just the third inning. Carlos Beltran, whose long foul ball in his first at bat was the loudest contact against Keuchel to this point in the game, then strode to the plate and promptly popped out in a sickly fashion to Jose Altuve right behind second base.
Heading into the top of the fourth inning, the Astros were surely feeling the pressure to score against Tanaka before a depleted (by an injury to Andrew Miller and a suspension to Aroldis Chapman) but still dynamite bullpen entered the equation. Fortunately, the calculus looked good with the lineup rolling over. Jose Altuve watched three straight balls while showing off his improved plate discipline and spitting on the fishing attempts of Tanaka and McCann. Two called strikes later and the count was full, and then Jose Altuve absolutely destroyed the ball on a frozen rope to left field. Aaron Hicks, a very good defensive outfielder, broke in on the ball (oops) and then jumped at the last second, when he realized that the 5'5" Gigante scalded the ball over his head. Lead off double for Altuve. George Springer then got a swinging bunt infield single to third base, and Altuve moved to third. Carlos Correa then narrowly avoided a double play ball after scalding one to Chase Headley. Altuve scored, making the score 2-1 Yankees, and Correa was safe at first. Carlito then attempted to steal second and was clearly thrown out...until the ball popped loose from Didi Gregorius' glove, and Correa was safe. Colby Rasmus followed with an "excuse me" check swing ground out (it took a very good play by Starlin Castro on the slow roller to get him - had Rasmus not been wearing seventeen layers of clothing, he might have been safe...haha) that advanced Correa to third. Carlos Gomez then struck out to end the inning. A plus, though: he struck out looking, so he was able to keep his sexy helmet on.
Dallas returned to the mound already sixty pitches deep for the bottom of the fourth inning. Brian McCann lofted a Texas Leaguer to right center field for a single on a 2-2 pitch. Chase Headley then struck out on a small slider in the dirt for out number one. Sudden-villain Starlin Castro then bounced a ground ball to Luis Valbuena, who started a successful 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, Luis Valbuena dribbled a ground ball into the shift for out number one. Then Preston Tucker had another great at bat and drilled a ball near the corner in right field. Tucker was flying (relatively speaking) out of the box and hustled into a double with plenty of room to spare. Joe Trezza had an interesting tidbit about Tucker's at bats to share on Twitter:
#Astros OF Preston Tucker today has lined out at 108 mph and doubled at 110 mph, per MLB GameDay. Dude doesn't not look like Lance Berkman.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) April 5, 2016
Tanaka attempted to pick Tucker off at second and threw the ball into center field, but Starlin Castro (villain!) was backing up the play in a heads up fashion and Tucker had to remain at second. Marwin Gonzalez worked Tanaka to a 2-2 count before striking out on a foul tip. With the tying run on second, Jason Castro came up to the plate looking for his first RBI of the season. What he found was a set of pitches running away from his left-handed bat, the last of which he tapped back to Tanaka on the mound before Tanaka threw it to first for the third out.
In the bottom half of the inning, Keuchelangelo made quick (nine pitches) work of the nine, one, and two hitters. He got Gregorius to roll over on a slider for a ground ball to Altuve at second. Altuve immediately got another play in, as Ellsbury jumped on the first pitch he saw for another ground ball to the second sacker. Aaron Hicks lifted the fourth pitch he saw to center field, and Keuchel was settling into a rhythm to end the fifth. His pitch count, however, was already at 82 by this point. In comparison, Tanaka had 71 pitches after five innings.
Altuve led off the top of the sixth inning with yet another (more) patient at bat than Astros fans have grown accustomed to seeing. It ended with a ground out, but the patience was still very nice to see. Springer then chopped a ball back up the middle on a 3/4 swing that Tanaka made a very nice play on to record the second out. Carlos Correa didn't care about any of that, and he hit the first Astros home run of 2016 for his second RBI of the day.
2-2, tied ball game on the opposite field work from your 2015 American League Rookie Of The Year. Another interesting bit of news from Joe Trezza's twitter feed here:
Carlos Correa is the youngest #Astros player to homer on Opening Day, narrowly edging out Terry Puhl, who did it in 1978. What a shot.— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) April 5, 2016
Colby Rasmus followed the missile to right field with a deep pitch-count walk, driving Tanaka's count for the day to 87 and driving Joe Girardi out of the dugout to pull his Opening Day starter with the go ahead run aboard before he even got through the sixth inning. Don't be fooled by any negative reports out of New York, however - there is no doubt at all that Masahiro Tanaka was very, very good this day. He was every bit as good as Keuchel, and probably better if we're being perfectly honest. After the pitching change, Chasen Shreve entered the game and got a comebacker from Gomez (who once again was able to keep his helmet on) to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, Dallas Keuchel returned to the mound with his pitch count still sitting at 82 looking for his second consecutive one-two-three inning. His first opponent, Alex Rodriguez, lined out weakly as part of today's Carlos Showrrea performance:
Teixeira followed with a weak comebacker to Keuchel, and Beltran flew out to deep, deep, deep center, where Carlos Gomez made a fine running catch to track it down. One inning after a nine pitch trio of outs, Keuchel retired the heart of the Yankees order on eight pitches and somehow escaped after six innings with only 90 pitches.
With Tyler White (not to mention Matt Duffy) on the bench, Luis Valbuena remained in the game to face left-hander Chasen Shreve and managed to work a 3-2 count before tapping to second base on the seventh pitch of the at bat to (villain!) Starlin Castro, who made yet another fine play on a slow rolling baseball and shoveled it to Teixeira at first. Then, Tyler White got his very first major league at bat as a pinch hitter to replace Tucker. He looked at a pitch inside for ball one, waved at a ball low and away for strike one, swung through a pitch inside for strike two, and then stayed on a pitch low and away to drive it into center field for his very first major league hit.
And Tyler White registered a 1.000 batting average.
Marwin Gonzalez followed that gorgeous piece of hitting with an ugly piece of striking out for out number two, and Jason Castro struck out to end the inning. Dellin Betances was casting a huge shadow in the Yankees bullpen at this point, and one had to figure that with the lineup rolling over the next inning that it might be the Astros' best chance to take the lead for good for the day.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Keuchelangelo returned to the mound sitting at 90 pitches and with two relievers warming in the bullpen in case he faltered. He responded with perhaps his filthiest strike out of the day, retiring Brian McCann on an ugly check swing strike three. Chase Headley followed with a really weak pop up on the infield for out number two, and then Starlin Castro got the treatment a villain deserves and waved through a pitch down and away for strike three. Dallas Keuchel finished his day with 106 pitches, and his final stat line was three hits allowed with two runs (both earned) and five strikeouts to four walks.
To lead off the eighth (yes, I hate it too), Jose Altuve drew a five pitch walk (!!!) and stole second base before George Springer flew to left field for the first out. Then, hilarity ensued. Carlos Correa, already responsible for both Astros runs in the game, nubbed a ball up the first base line. Correa, clearly running inside the foul line, was safe at first because Dellin Betances shotput the ball a good three feet over the head of (tall...) first baseman Mark Teixeira. Jose Altuve scored easily, making it 3-2 Astros, and Correa had driven in all three (to that point) Astros runs in three different at bats. Further fueling the hilarity, following a lengthy and heated on-field protest from Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the Yankees announced via Twitter:
After the Astros take a 3-2 lead in the 8th, the #Yankees are playing the duration of this game under protest.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 5, 2016
Never mind that, had Betances just hit Correa in the back instead of doing his best shotput impression, the umpires would have invoked the base running issue themselves. Once the silliness from the Yankees subsided, the Astros were still up 3-2...until they weren't. Tyler White was hit by a pitch immediately by new pitcher Johnny Barbato (yep, I sure did jump up off my chair in anger) before Luis Valbuena (remember when I was talking about Hinch having not pulled him earlier in the game?) singled in both runners. That would conclude the scoring for the inning for the Astros. Yankees Twitter, coincidentally, was utterly hilarious at this point.
New Astros pitcher Ken Giles made his American League debut in the bottom of the eighth and promptly was taken yard by the number nine hitter, Didi Gregorius. Giles recovered quickly to strike out Jacoby Ellsbury and pinch-hitter Brett Gardner, and then induced Alex Rodriguez to ground out weakly to Correa. He showed off his improved control of his slider by throwing it for called strikes several times including once for a called third strike on a full count. The fastball was, frankly, exploding out of his hand even at "only" 95 miles per hour. I saw it touch 97 at least once. Outside of one single pitch to Gregorius, Giles looked outstanding.
Jason Castro led off the top of the ninth inning for the Astros and struck out. Jose Altuve followed by blistering a ball right at Brett Gardner in left field. Then George Springer rounded out a lackluster Opening Day for himself by striking out in a poor fashion, and we were off to the bottom of the ninth.
Enter: Luke Gregerson.
Mark Teixeira grounded out to Carlos Correa in the shift to the right of second base.
Carlos Beltran weathered a broken bat just well enough to return and strike out swinging on a filthy slider in the dirt.
Brian McCann grounded out to Marwin Gonzalez, who made a solid play on the ball and then tossed to Gregerson to record the final out.
The Astros have now won four straight Opening Day games for the first time in Astros history. Get excited, Houston. BASEBALL IS BACK!
One quick note: X-Rays on Tyler White's hand were negative, which is good news. He'll likely have a bruise but should be fine.