Before today’s game got going, it had the look of a potentially exciting pitching matchup, with Astros fireballer Josh James squaring off against Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani was coming off an ugly performance in his first start of the year, in which he failed to record an out, and unfortunately, today he had a similar experience. While Ohtani was squeezed a bit by the home plate umpire today, he was nonetheless very wild, issuing five free passes while recording just five outs, but since the Astros were unable to record a hit against him, they only managed to push two runs across, both of which came on bases loaded walks in the 2nd inning.
This gave the Astros an early 2-0 advantage, but unfortunately Josh James had a similarly rough go of it, as he was unable to find the plate throughout his outing and eventually came unglued in the third frame, where he loaded the bases before serving up a grand slam to Albert Pujols, putting the Astros behind 4-2. James was all over the place throughout his three innings of work, issuing six walks along the way, before giving way to Framber Valdez in the fourth.
From this point, something of a relievers’ pitchers’ duel broke out. The Astros offense was unable to break through again for several more innings as the Angels sent a parade of arms to the hill, and Valdez had a lights out performance in long relief. Often susceptible to strike throwing woes, Valdez had no such issues today peppering the zone with heavy stuff and going five scoreless innings without issuing a walk from the fourth through eighth innings, likely solidifying a rotation role for himself once rest allows it. In the midst of the most chaotic season in MLB history, Valdez has been quite impressive in mopping up innings for the Astros thus far in 2020.
Despite looking listless at the plate for much of the day, the Astros were able to claw back into things gradually in the late innings. An Alex Bregman home run in the 6th cut the lead to one, and they were able to apply pressure in the 8th inning as well, putting two runners on board before the rally fizzled. Down to their last outs, the offense came alive once more in the top of the 9th inning. Michael Brantley led things off with a double against a clearly rattled Ty Buttrey, before being lifted for pinch runner Myles Straw, who scored on a one-out single by Josh Reddick after a lineout from Yuli Gurriel. Kyle Tucker then had an opportunity to to give the Astros the lead, but ultimately hit into an inning-ending double play.
This sent the game to the bottom of the ninth with a tied score, and Dusty Baker opted to send Framber back out for a sixth inning of work. In an ideal world I’m sure Dusty would’ve turned things over to a trusted late inning man, but given that just about all such arms are unavailable at the moment, it was tough to argue with giving Valdez the ball. However, he promptly issued a four pitch walk to 9-hole hitter Matt Thaiss, setting the top of the (Troutless) Angels’ lineup up for a golden opportunity to produce a walk off victory. From there David Fletcher hit into a force out to bring up Luis Rengifo, who then struck out to give Anthony Rendon an opportunity to end the game with an extra base hit. Rendon, no stranger to heroics, would come up empty, sending the game to extras.
The teams traded runs in the 10th, with Garret Stubbs bringing a runner home on a sac fly for Houston and Michael Hermosillo notching a two strike single to tie things up in the bottom of the frame, finally chasing Framber Valdez in favor of Blake Taylor. Taylor came up with a full count strikeout, sending the game to the 11th, when Alex Bregman provided an RBI single to give the Astros back the lead. Taylor returned to the hill for the 11th, inducing a quick groundout that advanced the Angels’ runner to third before issuing two straight walks to bring up Brian Goodwin, 0-4 on the day, with the bases loaded. Taylor got Goodwin into a 1-2 count, finally forcing a flyout to center to end the game. It was one of the uglier Astros games in recent memory, but they’ll take the win, and the outstanding performance from Framber Valdez prevented them from needing to use too many different arms today, which should be a help going forward as Dusty Baker tries to patch together a functional pitching staff day by day.