In a game that was close until the end, the Astros unleashed seven run fury in their last at bat to break the game open. But as magnificent as an 11-2 Astros win might seem, the real story of this game was the return of Framber Valdez. He’s still Framberizing. In fact, in this his first game back from AAA, he may have just caricatured himself.
How does a pitcher allow one run in six innings while walking five hitters, hitting two, and yes, allowing only two hits, including a home run? He was terrible. He was wonderful.
In the first inning he walked the lead-off hitter on five pitches. The next batter, Mike Trout, smashed a ground out to the shortstop on the first pitch, and then Valdez walked Shohei Ohtani on four pitches. On the first pitch he saw, Justin Upton hit into a double play, inning over, eight balls, three strikes, three outs.
In the second Valdez struck out future Hall of Famer and number one all-time Astros nemesis, Albert Pujols, and then gave up a home run to a guy they call Simba; Andrelton Simmons. He hit the next batter, and then, voila, a magical double play again.
But when they tell the history of Framberizing, surely the third inning of this game will be the story you tell your children over and over again. And the fairy dust sprinkled on the young pitcher by the old wizard, Brent Strom.
Ever heard of Houdini? The guy that would chain himself up just to prove he could escape anything? Framber said, I’m going to load the bases with no outs for Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols, and not give up a single run, just to prove I can.
He walked the first hitter that inning, gave up a single, hit Mike Trout, and then came the magic. The Old Wizard walked to the mound, sprinkled some dust, whispered an incantation, and then walked back.
Valdez whiffed Ohtani, whiffed Upton on three pitches, and then got the mighty Pujols to hit a dribbler to the mound for out three, a no run third inning.
From then on Valdez was almost like a normal pitcher; a real good one that is. For the next three innings he faced ten batters, allowing no hits, and walking only Mike Trout. (because that’s what normal pitchers do)
Here are Valdez’ eight strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Astros had given Valdez the narrowest 2-1 lead when he left the game in the sixth, having thrown 94 pitches, only 52 strikes.
The first Astros run came somewhat anti-climatically. With runners on second and third, slugger Yordan Alvarez could manage only a weak grounder, but it scored Jose Altuve from third base, who doubled to lead-off the inning.
The Astros would score the run that made Valdez the winning pitcher in the fourth. Alvarez would walk to open the inning and would eventually score on a Josh Reddick single.
The Astros would give their bullpen a little breathing room in the seventh on a two-run Martin Maldonado homer run, his ninth.
But it wasn’t until the eighth inning that the Astros showed us exactly why they are, indeed, the most prolific offense in baseball. Michael Brantley led-off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 17 games. Pinch runner Myles Straw would score on Alex Bregman’s double, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. The bases would be loaded after a Yuli Gurriel single to center that just missed being caught by Mike Trout.
New rookie Abraham Toro would get his first RBI on a sharp line drive to right field. Josh Reddick would then plate two more runs with a double to right. It was Reddick’s first two- hit game since July 14th.
It seemed quite enough of a thrashing, but in this age of excess Jose Altuve demanded to have his part too. He crushed one deep into the Crawford Boxes, his career tying 24th homer, scoring Reddick and giving the Astros their 11th run. The Angels would add a meaningless run of their own in the ninth off Chris Devenski to end the scoring.
Here’s the whole big inning.
One has to wonder whether Framber Valdez’ problems with control are caused by over-thinking. According to Jeff Luhnow in his Sunday interview, Valdez was brought up again precisely because he had improved his control. Since July 30th he had only walked 2.33 batters per nine innings. Yet, at the outset of today’s game Valdez struggled to even come close to the plate. Maybe, just maybe, the last three innings of today’s game mark a turning point for Valdez, when he learned to calm down and locate his pitches to major league hitters.
One can hope.
The Astros are finally off tomorrow after a terribly long stretch of consecutive games.
They resume play Tuesday at MMP. It’s our old friend, Charlie Morton, facing Justin Verlander, a battle between aspiring Cy Young contenders.
Box score and videos here.
It was dog contest day at Minute Maid Park