The clash of the titans… no wait … a MUST WIN game .. nope …a hard fought battle … nope…
Okay fine, it’s the second to last last day of the season with the best team in baseball playing the worst, with not much at stake. The only thing to play for? Pride.
The Astros have three games remaining with a great chance at beating the Astros all-time record of 102 wins, set 20 years ago (1998).
So Game 1 of the double header started with Justin Verlander wrapping up his Cy Young caliber campaign vs Dylan Bundy. Bundy was a big name prospect who has not put it all together this year, but the duo turned in a good pitchers duel.
In the first, Bundy let up a single to Josh Reddick but shut down the side. Verlander, not to be outdone, set down the side in order with two strikeouts.
In the second, Bundy let up another single to JD Davis, but struck out the side. Verlander kept up his pace striking out another 2 and putting down the Orioles in order.
In the third, Bundy set down Kemp, Springer, and Correa in order. Verlander looked to be in playoff form striking out the Oriole’s in order, now at 7 strikeouts through three.
The top of the 4th, Bundy let up another single to Reddick, but got a pop out and a double play to shut down the inning. Verlander was able to get two quick outs before the game had it’s first signs of drama. Adam Jones doubled on a sharp line drive to Kemp, and advanced to third on a Wild Pitch. Verlander, showing his playoff composure struck out Mancini to end the threat.
The Astros offense continued to sputter, with Bundy striking out Gattis and Davis to start the inning, and getting the “speedy” Maldonado on a ground out to third. Verlander still looked unfazed continuing to cut through the Orioles line-up with another 2 strikeouts, giving Verlander 10 on the night.
The game seemed like the same old story, Verlander being dominant but the offense unable to provide him with any run support. But in the sixth, the wheels came off for Bundy. Kemp, in his normal sparkplug role, walked to lead off the sixth. Kemp had Bundy nervous, after three pick-off attempts, George Springer came to the plate and smashed a 92 mph fastball over the left field wall. (Kemp was running on the play). For the very next pitch, Bundy threw a change up that Correa did not miss, smashing it back to back to the right field wall.
One for the fans in left, another for the fans in right. pic.twitter.com/fyVCr5Ukak— Houston Astros (@astros) September 29, 2018
After a mound visit, Bundy recovered shutting down Marwin, White and Gattis in order. Verlander finally having a lead, started off the inning with a 15 pitch battle against Caleb Joseph, ultimately leading to a lead off single. Luckily, he quickly erased the runner with a double play. Villar walked and Adam Jones grounded out to end the inning.
Both pitchers were replaced in the sixth, ending with the following lines:
Bundy – 6 IP, 3 ER, 7 K’s, 1 BB
Verlander – 6 IP, 0 ER, 10 K’s, 1 BB
Justin Verlander, 94mph Fastball, 79mph Curveball and 89mph Slider, 3 pitch K, Overlay/Slow. pic.twitter.com/AKLrLGpwUQ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 29, 2018
This brought Verlander’s ERA on the season down to 2.52, and put him in line for his 17th win on the season. I do want to take a moment to recognize that at 35, Verlander’s 10 strikeouts brought him to 21 more than he’s ever had in a single season.
In the seventh, Bundy was replaced by Cody Caroll. The Astros looked like they may rally with 2 outs, when Kemp hit a line drive single followed by Springer taking a walk. Unfortunately, Correa was called out on strike three that game day shows as off the plate and not touching the strike zone.
Joe Smith came in, and got a ground out from Mancini to start the inning. But then, the wheels came off for him as well, giving up a double to Beckham, a walk to Nunez, and a homer to Stewart tying the game at 3-3. He did get Rickard to pop out in foul territory, and Caleb Johnson to fly out to end the inning but the damage had been done.
Unfortunately, the Astros offense went back to sleep with Sean Gilmartin coming in and letting up to a single to Tyler White but the Astros unable to muster anything else from them. Will Harris came in for the Astros, who came in and get 3 quick outs.
Suddenly, in the 9th inning, we had a tie game, and this meaningless game had some drama.
The Astros quickly had two outs with Maldonado grounding out, and Kemp striking out. Down to their last out, Springer took a walk and Carlos Correa doubled, scoring Springer.
Having reclaimed the lead and Rondon coming in to close the game, I felt a calm confidence. Then a lead off single by Mancini who was replaced by a pinch runner (Andreoli). Andreoli with elite speed (29.7 feet per second) was now the tying run on first. Then Beckham hit a single, and that calm confidence I mentioned was gone. The pressure built, with Rondon getting a mound visit. Luckily, Rondon was able to get a ground out double play, then a strike out, ending both the threat and the game.
Win #102 tying the 1998 Astros!
Verlander pitched extremely well, dropping his ERA down and adding to his gaudy strikeout count. I was really hopeful he would come away with the win, simply due to the value that Cy Young voters put on the stat.
Carlos Correa was the most important, hitting both a double and a home run. If he’s right, the Astros go from a force to be reckoned with to just downright scary.
Josh Reddick’s 3-5 was a great sign, as we hope for him to rebound and get hot in the playoffs.
With 2 games to go, the Astros need 1 more to set the all-time franchise record!