A proliferation of Angels home runs and lack of timely hitting (or really, any hitting) led to the Astros dropping the first game of this Independence Day Weekend.
Justin Verlander came out of the gate strong, picking up multiple strikeouts and generally not throwing many pitches. His second inning strikeout of Jarrett Parker moved him ahead of Jim Bunning on the all-time strikeout list for sole possession of eighteenth all-time. Now with 2859 in his career, 3000 will be his next milestone.
But Verlander’s struggles with the long ball quickly returned with a vengeance. Kole Calhoun took Verlander deep for two runs in the third, then birthday boy Shohei Ohtani followed suit two batters later. Verlander would allow another solo shot to lead off the sixth, this one to Andrelton Simmons; his final line on the night would be 7.0 innings, 7 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, and 4 runs allowed.
Hector Rondon followed him up, allowing yet another dinger to Mike Trout. Unfortunately, that wound up being the difference here. At least Josh James managed a mostly-clean ninth, striking out the first two batters he faced before allowing a ground ball single to Luis Rengifo (who was promptly caught stealing).
On offense, it was the Michael Brantley show, with the All-Star starter collecting four hits in four plate appearances and scoring three times. He started the scoring off in the second with his twelfth home run of the year, then added doubles in the fourth and sixth, and finally a single in the eighth.
Yea, he's an All-Star. #TakeItBack pic.twitter.com/zzCCv7MqaT— Houston Astros (@astros) July 6, 2019
The only other offense of note for the night came from Yordan Álvarez and Yuli Gurriel. Álvarez followed up Brantley’s first double with one of his own off of the center field wall; his other three at-bats on the night ended in strikeouts. Gurriel, meanwhile, drove in Brantley from third after Álvarez’s double with a ground out (Brantley held to see if it would be caught at the warning track and couldn’t advance home), then homered in the eighth with Brantley once again on to bring the game to within one.
x @el_yuly10 gets us within 1. #TakeItBack pic.twitter.com/YgormdjSY0— Houston Astros (@astros) July 6, 2019
Four other batters walked, and Myles Straw stole second after his, but that was it for the offense tonight. And in a one-run game, all of the missed opportunities from the lack of hitting hurt bad: Straw was stranded at second with one out in the third; Brantley and Álvarez both doubling with one out could only be converted into a lone RBI ground out; the bases were left loaded in the sixth after a lead off walk to Alex Bregman and Brantley’s second double. Credit to the Angels six pitchers for holding them (including opener Noé Ramirez and winning pitcher Félix Peña), but it’s still frustrating to watch as a fan.
Game 2 of this final series in the first half takes place tomorrow at 6:15 PM CST, with Gerrit Cole and Andrew Heaney on the mound. With today’s loss, the Astros currently sit at 55-33, 7.0 games ahead of the A’s and behind only the Yankees for best record in the American League.