By the middle of the second inning anyone could see that the Astros were about to cruise to their fifth straight win in champion style. Why, it was already 6-0, Dallas Keuchel was pitching, and the opponent was the bottom dwelling Arlington Rangers.
Woh, not so fast.
For the second game in a row, the strength of this team, the heart and soul of the 2018 Houston Astros, the starting pitching, suffered an almost comical meltdown, or, if you take the game more seriously, a cardiac arrest.
For last night, the game’s headline could have read, “Texas Rangers hit hard by Charlie Morton, Astros Win.” After all he beaned four of them, walked six others, but somehow only surrendered one earned run in 3.2 innings.
Tonight the headline makes just a little more sense: “Dallas Keuchel hit hard by Rangers, Astros Manage to Win.”
So if you thought after the top of the second that this game was a laugher, the last laugh would be on you. Fifteen runs, 28 hits, 9 pitchers, and after all that, the deciding run was scored on a delayed balk call in the top of the ninth.
Come to think of it, Astros fans did get the last laugh, watching Rangers manager Jeff Bannister getting thrown out of the game after launching numerous F-bombs at the umpire.
All’s well that ends well.
So after going on top with two runs in the first, starting with George Springer’s leadoff homer, and four in the second, highlighted by an Alex Bregman triple and a Jose Altuve double, things started to slowly fall apart.
Or, as of late, that’s how the Keuchel crumbles.
In the bottom of the second the Rangers chipped away with two runs on 2 singles, a passed ball, and then a two-run RBI single by Shin-Soo Choo with 2 outs.
Score 6-2. No problem.
In the third Keuchel surrendered two singles and a hit by pitch, loading the bases. Carlos Perez then hit a 2 RBI single, again with 2 outs, to reduce the Astros lead to 6-4.
Hmmmm. Getting a little nervous.
Keuchel managed to work around two hits in the fourth and was allowed to start the fifth despite a high pitch count. The first batter doubled and scored on Roughned Odor’s line drive single, which grazed off shortstop Marwin Gonzalez’ glove. A lazy throw in from Tony Kemp and then a misfire from third baseman Alex Bregman to Jose Altuve allowed Odor to occupy second. He would score on Ronald Guzman’s ground single to left against the shift.
Keuchel’s final line was 4.1 innings pitched, 6 runs, 5 earned, 13 hits and three strikeouts.
Astros relief pitching came through for the second night in a row, starting with Tony Sipp, who finished the fifth without a run and pitched part of the sixth, followed by Ken Giles, who finished the sixth and completed the seventh without allowing a run.
In the seventh Yuli Gurriel had the hit of the game, a solo home run that put the Stros temporarily in the lead, 7-6.
But in the bottom of the eighth the Rangers would tie the game against Will Harris, on a Nomar Mazzara double, and an Adrian Beltre single, all with two outs.
Score tied again.
With a bullpen now worn out by two straight nights of rare starting pitcher fails, the Astros knew they had better score in the ninth rather than go into extra innings.
It started well. Rangers closer Keone Kela walked George Springer to start the inning, who advanced on a wild pitch. The Rangers intentionally walked Jose Altuve to bring up the red hot Gurriel. Gurriel made his only out of the night, but his fly ball advanced Springer to third.
With two outs and two strikes on Evan Gattis, Kela balked. He clearly quick pitched. Everyone saw it, but not one umpire called it.
(Could you imagine what we’d be saying here at The Crawfish Boxes if Ken Giles did that)
Running out of the dugout raced Astros manager A. J. Hinch, adamantly protesting the oversight. And the umpires made the call. After being admonished to make a call by one of the managers, THE UMPIRES MADE THE CALL. What? I’ve never seen that before.
Springer scored! 8-7 Stros.
In the end they got the call right, at least, but as sure as night follows day out came Rangers manager Jeff Bannister, and all you could see in the ensuing cloud of dust was Bannister’s front teeth on his lower lip and umpire Sam Holbrook’s right finger pointing at the locker room.
Hector Rondon, perhaps solidifying his new-found role as closer, shut down the Rangers in the bottom of the ninth in impressive fashion, recording three strikeouts with 11 strikes in 16 pitches.
The Astros were outhit by the Rangers, 12-16, but they had 2 homers, 2 doubles and a triple. Out of their 16 hits, the Rangers had 14 singles and only two extra base hits, both doubles.
Yuli Gurriel was the game’s offensive MVP, going 4-5 with 2 RBI and the big go-ahead home run in the 7th.
Dallas Keuchel has emerged as a major concern for the Astros, having allowed 13 runs in his last 11 innings, and 23 runs in his last 27 innings spanning 5 games.
Today in only 4.1 innings pitched he threw 106 pitches but managed only 8 swinging strikes. He threw more two seam fastballs than all other pitches combined, an unusually high percentage, and had a whiff rate of 2.3%, about half the usual rate on that pitch. Brooks Baseball gave that pitch a linear weighted outcome of 2.73. (anything above 0 is bad) His whiff rate rate overall was 7.5%, compared to his 2017 average of almost 11%, and down from his 2018 average of almost 9%.
In Dallas’ defense, according to Statcast only 5 balls hit against Keuchel today would be classified as hard hit. (>95 MPH)
Will Harris was credited with the win, as well as with a blown save. (Cmon baseball statistician people, that shouldn’t be possible.)
Keone Kela was the loser.
Remember these last two games Astros fans when our beloved Stros run into a batch of bad luck. Without some good fortune, this series could have easily ended 2-2. Oh well, you take em any way you can. But winning a game on a balk call? That’s like what they used to say about a tie game in football: it’s like kissing your sister.
The Astros have now won 5 straight and remain tied with the Seattle Mariners for the lead of the AL West, who won yet another one run game today.
Monday is a much needed day off, especially for the currently overworked and under-appreciated bullpen.
Box Score and videos here.