To be honest, the Astros haven’t been much fun, if any, to write about in recent weeks. The Brandon Taubman situation unfolded in the most disappointing manner followed by a World Series defeat and sign-stealing allegations that will certainly be the main storyline of this offseason. Just a lot of cringeworthy moments for the Houston ball club.
That said, it does bring a small amount of solace to go back and rewatch some actual baseball. And, no, I am not talking about listening for trash cans, whistles, or anything of the sort. I am writing about simply rewatching clips for a pure enjoyment factor. How plays, the ordinary or wacky, unfold. It does feel like I tend to forget that baseball is also entertainment, which provides a temporary distraction from the more pressing matters in life. Baseball is meant to be fun.
So, I decided to do a little search and it began with a query of the lowest expected batting average plays that were base hits allowed by an Astros pitcher in 2019 via Baseball Savant. My goal was to find a play worth rewatching, something that was at least considered bizarre. Alas, the first play of the query didn’t exactly generate the most satisfying result.
The play simply exists due to Michael Brantley and Jake Marisnick not communicating about who should catch Edwin Encarnacion’s fly ball to left field. It was a blunder of play, but not exactly what I was looking for. It does hold the distinction, though, of having the lowest expected batting average (.003) of a hit allowed by a Houston pitcher during the regular season. Somewhere, deep down in his soul, I believe Justin Verlander is still seething about this one.
My search would continue onward, but not for very long. On the next play in my query, I found one that could fit the criteria, in my opinion, of being one of the more bizarre of Houston’s 2019 season. And naturally it involved the Astros playing a game at Arlington, which is where some of the club’s worst luck has occurred in recent history.
The play in question took place way back on April 21. Left-hander Framber Valdez was on the mound facing slugger Joey Gallo in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on third base and two outs while the Rangers held a 10-6 lead. For context, starter Collin McHugh was rocked for nine earned runs in 3 1⁄3 innings and the Astros were left playing catch up all day long. Entering this contest, Gallo had a mighty 165 wRC+, so it wasn’t exactly an optimal situation for Valdez. The Rangers’ star, for example, would finish the season with a 1.170 OPS against southpaws before he hit the IL in July. In this particular contest, Gallo was already responsible for a triple in the first inning followed by a RBI groundout and sacrifice fly to score two runs. However, Valdez managed to get Gallo to pop up on a 1-2 four-seam fastball located in the middle part of the zone (yikes). The play only had an expected batting average of .005. Under normal perfect weather conditions, or a roof, the inning is most likely over with the Astros hoping the lineup can continue to chip away at the deficit.
Not. So. Fast.
As always, the Astros were playing Gallo in a shift, which is nothing new. The team used a shift in 49.4 percent of the time this past season. I have more faith in Houston deploying the shift against a hitter like Gallo than I do about waking up on time most days.
At Minute Maid Park, Carlos Correa makes the catch in shallow right-center field, and we move on with our day. However, this game was played in the open air of Texas and sometimes the wind is a factor. It was definitely the factor in this one play as the wind drifted the ball back close to the infield dirt, where the second baseman or shortstop would normally be positioned.
The funny part of the play for me occurred when the fielders not named Correa realized where the ball was heading once in it became apparent that it didn’t drop. It truly was a “Oh, crap” moment for the fielders. As noted by the Rangers’ TV broadcast, the wind did take the ball into no-man’s land. It was like divine placement for Texas to score another run, which turned out to be pivotal in this game. For the record, you can’t blame Correa for the wind carrying the ball in an unexpected manner with the sun in full force. It happens.
Ultimately, the Rangers squeaked by with a 11-10 victory over the Astros that day. Houston did chip away at the lead and managed to keep Texas from scoring another run for the remainder of the game, which only made this one play more maddening. But it was also fun to replay a wacky moment from the season as the game itself didn’t drastically altered the trajectory of the Astros. Although this play, and game as a whole, didn’t break Houston’s way, it was still entertaining to watch again. I genuinely caught myself smiling after watching the fielders scramble around the field. Baseball is meant to be fun and this one play brought back some of that joy for me. I hope it does the same for you.