A game that was billed as a pitcher’s duel between the phenom from Nippon, Shohei Ohtani, and the MLB ERA leader, Charlie Morton, became instead a slugfest, with the Angels outhomering the Astros 3-2, and outscoring the hometown boys 8-7.
The Astros struggled from behind most of the game, but never seemed out of it. After the Stros took a late lead, the Angels regained control when Andrelton Simmons capped off an Angels 4 run seventh with his second home run of the game. The Astros answered in the bottom of the inning, coming within one run, but could just not get the clutch hit needed to get back on top. The Astros outhit the Halos 14-8, but stranded 11 batters to the Angels’ 4.
After an eleven game run in which the Astros pitching staff had held opponents to 2 or fewer earned runs, tonight’s game was notable for the breakdown of the starting pitching and part of the bullpen.
The league leader in ERA going into the game, Charlie Morton, only managed 4 innings, and did not have his usual command and control. He surrendered 5 walks, 5 hits, 2 home runs, and yet somehow managed to give up only 4 earned runs. His ERA “ballooned” to 1.86 for the season.
His counterpart, Shohei Ohtani, while flashing truly impressive stuff and velocity that hit 101 MPH, likewise lacked command and had an overall performance similar to Morton: 5.1 innings pitched, 5 walks, 6 hits and 4 earned runs. He surrendered one home run.
The worst pitching malfunction of the game however, was the seventh inning meltdown by losing reliever Joe Smith, who surrendered 3 hits, a walk, a crucial home run, and 4 earned runs. His season ERA is 8.22.
The Angels started the scoring in the first with a Mike Trout solo home run, his tenth, and in the second inning Simmons did a copycat, giving the Angels a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second the Astros got one back, starting the action with a two out double by Alex Bregman. He was plated by a Marwin Gonzalez single to right, but in a bizarre TOOTBLAN, was tagged out twice, once by second baseman Ian Kinsler between 1st and 2nd base, who, however, dropped the ball during the tag. He was tagged again after Kinsler picked up the ball and threw it to first, where Albert Pujols applied the second tag, getting Gonzalez and ending the inning.
The Angels scored two more in the third, thanks to three consecutive Morton walks, followed by RBI infield singles by Justin Upton and the Astros’ main nemesis Simmons. The inning ended mercifully with an awkward but effective Carlos Correa to Yuli Gurriel double play.
In the fifth inning the Astros began to creep back after a Derek Fisher 425 foot home run to center, which scored Marwin Gonzalez, to get the Astros to within one, 4-3 Angels.
In the Sixth the Astros took the lead on a Brian McCann-onball to right field, scoring Yuli Gurriel and putting the Astos ahead 5-4.
Considering the consistency of the Stros bullpen this year, it seemed highly probable that the Astros lead would hold up. Alas it was not to be. In the seventh Joe Smith appeared to have the Angels under control, striking out Mike Trout for the second out and with a runner only on first. Then Justin Upton hit a single, followed by an Albert Pujols RBI single, and then the crushing blow, the Simmons three run blast to left, his second of the game.
The Astros, who have fought back from worse situations than this in much bigger games, did not simply concede to a 3 run deficit. Carlos Correa led off the bottom of the seventh with a hard single to center, followed by another hit by Josh Reddick, sending Correa to third. After a Gurriel line out, Bregman poked a gentle single into left field, scoring Correa. After a Brian McCann walk loaded the bases, Marwin Gonzalez blooped an RBI single into shallow center, making the score 8-7.
In the play of the game, with the bases loaded and 2 out, George Springer, who was 3-5 for the game, hit a rocket one hopper near Zack Cozart. Cozart somehow stabbed the ball, held it cleanly, and threw to second for the force, saving at least 2 runs, and probably the game for the Angels.
The eight and ninth innings were scoreless.
Every Astro starter got at least one hit except Jose Altuve, strangely enough, who was 0-5, with 2 k’s. All seven Astros RBI were credited to the 6-9 hitters, oft described as the “black hole” in the Astros lineup much of this season.
Except for Smith, the Astros bullpen was again stellar, with Brad Peacock throwing 2 perfect innings in relief for Morton, and Will Harris and Ken Giles throwing perfect innings in the eight and ninth innings respectively.
With their win tonight, the Angels have already taken this three game series with the Astros as well as the AL West division lead. The Astros can regain their rightful place atop the West with a victory in tomorrow’s 1:10 day game. Justin Verlander faces former Astros propect Nick (Nitro) Tropeano.
Box Score here
1. Will the Astros be in a dogfight with the Angels for the rest of the season for control of the AL West?
2. Should the Astros eat Joe Smith’s salary and save themselves any further misery?