Wow, what a game.
After what looked to be another offenseive struggle at home the Astros would turn it on late and absolutely annihilate Angels pitching for the second consecutive game. This game would mark the 4th straight 10+ run game given up by Angels’ pitching, a new club record for them.
This all came after what looked like it was going to be a pitcher’s duel as Verlander and the talented rookie Jaime Barria were able to keep runners mostly off the bases through the opening frames. Both pitchers looked to be in control and so did the first arms out of the bullpens before the fireworks started in the 8th.
The first couple of innings would actually look like Verlander might not be able to get deep, expending 27 pitches in the first inning including a 14 pitch AB against Jose Fernandez that ended with Verlander plunking him on the hand. In true ace fashion though he would buckle down and get to work.
Starting around the 3rd inning Verlander would kick it into another gear, striking out 5 in a row. He would especially dominate the bottom of LA’s order, striking out the bottom 4 twice as well as Calhoun twice in the leadoff spot. He would finish the night after punching out 11 Angels and was straight dealing for 6 innings.
Justin Verlander, Knee-buckling 79mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/3gJ4Jz6kGq— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 23, 2018
Verlander now sits at 280 strikeouts, which is a career high for him, and is once more in control of the AL lead for that stat. The start also puts his season totals at 208 innings, 153 hits allowed, and 36 walks. He has one more start in 2018, which will come next week in Baltimore.
As for the Angels, Barria continued to show why he was ranked so highly in the Angels farm system before coming up to plug a leaky rotation at the beginning of the season. He would start out looking sharper than Justin, holding Houston hitless until the 3rd inning.
The first real threat of the night for either team would come in the bottom of the 4th when Yuli would leadoff the inning with a double and move to 3rd on a deep McCann fly out. He would come home on a Gattis RBI single, but the inning would immediately come to an end as Gattis was caught lumbering into 2nd in a stretch attempt.
But it was a lead, and with how good the pitching was looking you almost felt like they might be able to take it to the house with that slim margin. The Angels’ pitching looked like it wasn’t going to budge either though, and as it moved into the 8th inning it seemed like, one way or another, it was going to be decided by just one run.
The top of the 8th looked like it would spell calamity for the good guys as Rondón would continue his recent run of stinkers by walking the first batter he faced, a pinch hitting Eric Young Jr. After stealing second he would come home on a double off the bat of Franciso Arcia, the Angels second consecutive pinch hitter, to tie the game. From there things would just spiral for the bullpen.
Joe Smith would get the ball after a Kole Calhoun strikeout, but would make a costly error by going to second on a come-backer, which momentarily hung up a pinch running Michael Hermosillo between 2nd and 3rd. Unfortunately, he would make it to the third on an offline throw from Altuve to Bregman and there would be no out recorded.
This all happened just in time for Mike Trout to mash the predictable 3-run home run, putting the Angels up 4-1. Ohtani, Upton, and Simmons would all reach with Ohtani coming home before Smith was finally relieved by McHugh, who was able to get 2 quick outs to stop the bleeding. Things looked bleak heading into the bottom of the inning down 5-1, especially for an offense that hadn’t done much the whole game.
Altuve would open the innings with a walk before Bregman, who has struggled the entire home stand, would pop out on the infield. Fortunately, Justin Anderson looked to be having trouble finding the strike zone as Marwin would walk, causing Mike Scioscia to go to his shiny new closer Ty Buttrey.
Buttrey was a trade piece in the deal that sent Kinsler to the Red Sox and has been money for the Angels since debuting earlier this season. He had only given up a single run as a big leaguer and looked to be a weapon for the Angels, but the Astros could smell a rally forming, and after so much frustration at home they wouldn’t be denied.
Against Buttrey and later Blake Parker, 9 consecutive Astros would reach base as they clawed their way back to take the lead and then pound LA into submission. The back breaker was a botched double play ball for the Angels off the bat of Tyler White that would have ended the inning at 5-4 Angels, but instead allowed Houston to take the lead. The rally was then capped by a 2-run moon shot from Altuve and a Bregman single before Marwin and Yuli were retired to finally end the 8th.
Before it would end though there was this nice moment for Myles Straw:
First career stolen base for Myles Straw!— Houston Astros (@astros) September 23, 2018
He's fast. pic.twitter.com/wJbFU2makY
All told, the Astros would plate a season-high 9 runners in the 8th inning and send 13 batters to the dish. Osuna would appear in the 9th to get some work in and pitch an efficient 1-2-3 inning, striking out 1 while only throwing 9 pitches.
Yuli Gurriel was once again an offensive force with his second straight three hit game and helped manufacture the only run either team scored in the first 7 innings. Altuve also continues to look like he’s ramping up into a solid rhythm just as the playoffs draw close.
The Astros are now 97-57 and their lead in the division remains at 3.5 thanks to yet another A’s victory tonight. Houston’s magic number to clinch the division drops to 5 with 8 games to go. The Astros are now at 15-4 in the month of September and seem to be building a head of steam under them.
Oh, and there’s this as well:
Fun fact: That strikeout was the 1,615th of the season, a new Major League record.— Houston Astros (@astros) September 23, 2018
Tomorrow marks the final home game of the regular season at Minute Maid Park. Tyler Skaggs makes his second start for the Angels since returning from the DL this past week. He’ll face Charlie Morton as the Astros try to sweep LA out of town and inch one step closer to securing the division. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 pm CT.
Box score and video here.