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Astros 9, Rangers 3: McCullers, Correa Dominate Their Way To Victory

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Lance McCullers was utterly dominant in his 2018 debut, striking out ten, while Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve powered the offense to a beat-down of the Rangers.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
Lance McCullers was utterly dominant in his first appearance of the 2018 season
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Lance McCullers came out of the chute firing on all cylinders, recording three ground ball outs on nine pitches - seven of which came for strikes.

In the top of the second, Evan Gattis led off the inning with a ringing double into the right center field gap. Then, Benny Hill came to visit. On a wild pitch, Gattis had minor hesitation before attempting to advance to third as former teammate Juan Centeno scrambled to recover the ball. Centeno fired the ball down to third, but Gattis managed to sneak in with a hilarious belly flop tumble of a “slide” that looked just as much like a bear falling into a booby trap pit as you’d probably imagine. The Benny Hill continued as McCann popped a bloop single against a diving Nomar Mazara in right field and then advance to second a few pitches later on another wild pitch.

Then, Jake from Rake Farm logged on...for the second time in as many starts:

Jake Marisnick is showing out well so far early this year, hanging breaker or not. Just like that, the Astros were up three to nothing.

Lance McCullers returned to the mound in the second and promptly notched a three pitch strikeout against Nomar Mazara before walking Shin Soo Choo on a good 3-2 breaking ball in the dirt. That same filthy dirt breaker got Stinky (I refuse to tag him in anything) swinging for a second strike out, and then Centeno lined out to Carlos Correa on a well-struck ball.

Carlos Correa and Marwin Gonzalez went for back to back doubles to left to push the lead to four runs in the top of the third, and Lance McCullers re-took the hill for the bottom of the third having been staked to a comfortable lead. Lance responded with aplomb, striking out the first two men he saw (including a hesitation timing stutter to poor Carlos Tocci) and snapping of some utterly disgusting change ups before he unfortunately hung a flat, fat breaking ball to Elvis Andrus, who hit the cookie out to left center field to cut the lead to three runs. Lance responded by striking out Joey Gallo, who never strikes out, so that was pleasing to see.

After a quiet top of the fourth, Lance came back with a vengeance and struck out Adrian Beltre for his sixth K on the day. After Nomar Mazara added the Rangers’ second hit (a single) of the day, there was a scary moment in which Lance McCullers, who has missed some time in his career with injuries, was hit on the right ankle by a 96 mile an hour ground ball off the bat of Choo. The play resulted in a fielder’s choice as Bregman made a solid bare handed play on the carom to retire Choo, but all attention was on McCullers, who writhed on the ground in abject pain.

After the trainers came out and took a long look and Lance walked around some without limping and threw some warmup pitches, he stayed in the game and retired Stinky on a ground out on which McCullers covered first base with relative ease. Crisis averted.

After two singles from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa resulted in a first and third situation for the second time in the game, Marwin Gonzalez was able to follow with an RBI in the form of a sacrifice fly to push the score back to five to one in favor of the Orange Marauders.

Lance came back and put any lingering, whispered questions about the comebacker and his ankle to bed by polishing up his best inning to that point in the game. He struck out former battery mate Juan Centeno looking on three pitches, made Drew Robinson look flatly silly on a swinging K, and Carlos Tocci did his best 2008 Hunter Pence impression by waving feebly at a breaking ball down and away, well out of the strike zone, to complete a fifth inning trifecta of strikeouts. To this point, Lance McCullers had nine strikeouts through five innings and had just 79 pitches through those five innings.

After Brian McCann launched a rocket into the right field corner for a single, a great defensive play down the left field line by future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre erased McCann at second on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Marisnick. George Springer followed by getting into a Jesse Chavez pitch to left field for an RBI double, as Marisnick raced all the way around from first to score the sixth run.

Lance had another bout of bad luck on a comebacker to lead off the bottom of the sixth off the bat of Elvis Andrus. Fortunately it glanced off his orange glove and not his body, but he was visibly frustrated as Andrus reached first in recording just the third hit of the day for the Rangers, the beneficiary of serious good fortune. With Andrus on first, McCullers went on to strike out Joey Gallo...again...and then Adrian Beltre chopped a double (which really should have been an error on Alex Bregman, as he played the ball about as badly as he could have) and the Rangers utterly, completely lucked into a second run on the day. As a result of that horrendous luck (and really bad defensive play by his third baseman) Lance was unable to finish the sixth inning, with Will Harris coming on in relief and Lance stalking angrily off to the showers in spite of a truly dominant 10 strikeout day.

On the day, McCullers threw 51 curves to 30 fastballs and ten change ups.

Harris retired Mazara on a line out to center and struck out Shin Soo Choo swinging to end the inning and officially close the door on McCullers’ day. Jose Altuve led off the seventh with another single, his third hit of the day, and Carlito checked in with his fourth hit of the day...on his first home run of the season:

It was Correa’s seventh career four hit day, and it essentially put the game out of reach at 8-2 in only the seventh inning...and he still had one more plate appearance coming to try and get a triple to complete the cycle and record his first career five hit day.

Tony Sipp entered the game for the bottom of the seventh and was really impressive, inducing two quick ground balls and striking out Drew Robinson swinging to end the half. Brian McCann and George Springer both walked against Jake Diekmann, bringing Jose Altuve to the plate with two outs and Carlos Correa waiting for his chance on deck. And on a 2-2 pitch, Jose Altuve singled to center and Carlos Tocci showed his complete lack of an arm, as Brian McCann scored from second even as he hesitated around third.

And to the plate stepped Correa.

Pitch one was a breaking ball away. Ball one.

Pitch two was a 96 mile per hour fastball on the outside corner for strike one looking.

Pitch three was a breaking ball down and away, Two and one.

Pitch three was breaking ball up that had Correa bailing out of the box. Three and one.

And then Correa flew out to center field anticlimactically on the fifth pitch of the appearance. Still, though, a 4-5 day with a double, a home run, and two RBI looks pretty great in the box score.

Tony Sipp returned to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and retired Carlos Tocci before Andrus walked (reaching base for the third time of the game) and Joey Gallo struck out...for a change. Jurickson Profar, into the game for Beltre, drew another walk (though Sipp was all over the strike zone in the encounter) before Mazara drove in a run on an opposite field single, chasing Sipp from the game in favor of Collin McHugh in his first regular season relief appearance.

It was unfortunate for Sipp, because he was really great in his first inning and was all around the zone in his second inning, it just didn’t go his way.

McHugh, answering the bell for the first time in 2018, looked solid in relief, inducing a fly out to Derek Fisher in left, who entered the game to allow Marwin Gonzalez to move to second so that Jose Altuve could get the rest of the afternoon off in the rout. After a couple walks and an otherwise-quiet top of the ninth, Collin McHugh returned for the final three outs.

Stinky? Ground out to Correa.

Centeno? Fly out to Marisnick.

Drew Robinson extended the game by working himself a walk, but that brought the much-maligned Carlos Tocci to the plate. And Tocci grounded out weakly to short to end the game. Handshakes and high fives, Astros win nine to three and move to 2-1 on the young season.