It’s almost Halloween. And almost all Astros fans are wondering if their star pitcher is a werewolf. On any given night, which Framber Valdez is going to show up? The one who pitched eight innings of one-run ball against Boston in Game Five of the ALCS , or the one that allowed five runs in two innings tonight.
Maybe Framber didn’t howl tonight, but Astros fans worldwide could be heard making blood-curdling shrieks when Valdez allowed a two-run homer with no out in the third, putting the game out-of-reach before it had even reached the one-third mark.
Out of reach because the “big bats” in the Astros lineup were anemic. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa were a combined 0-12 for the game with six strikeouts and six men left on base.
The Braves set the stage for the game right away. Jorge Soler led off the game with a homer to the Crawford Boxes. It was the first leadoff homer in the top of the first in the history of the World Series.
The Braves added another run after an infield hit by Ozzie Albers, a stolen base, and a double by Austin Riley.
In the second Valdez and the Astros were fortunate that the Braves added only one more run. Weak hitting catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Joc Pederson started the inning with singles, both runners advancing to second and third on a Dansby Swanson fly to deep center.
Valdez caught a slight break when Jorge Soler hit a grounder to short that scored d’Arnaud, but Joc Pederson was tagged out trying to advance to third for the second out. After a walk and a single to load the bases Valdez escaped further damage by striking out Austin Riley.
Valdez came out for the third inning, but you won’t see it on his box score. the proverbial 2+ innings pitched. After a leadoff Eddie Rosario single, Adam Duvall tagged Valdez for his second homer allowed, making the game 5-0. Yimi Garcia replaced Valdez at this point, retiring the next three batters, two on strikeouts.
Valdez’s final line was two innings pitched, five runs, eight hits, and only two strikeouts.
The Astros managed to make some noise in the first inning, getting the bases loaded with two outs. But they came up empty, as Kyle Tucker grounded out to second.
However, the Astros managed to score a run in the fourth inning after a Kyle Tucker double, a Yuli Gurriel single, and a grounder by Chas McCormick that was muffed by shortstop Swanson but scored a fielder’s choice.
After Garcia in the third, Astros relievers Jake Odorizzi, Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek held the Braves through the seventh.
In the eighth, the Braves scored a lucky run. After Stanek walked Swanson, Soler hit a weak check-swing grounder that Yuli Gurriel chose not to play, thinking that the pitcher could get to it. But the ball eluded Stanek, Soler safe at first without a play while Swanson went to third.
Freddie Freeman then hit a short fly to right field off new reliever Brooks Raley. Kyle Tucker should have thrown out Swanson tagging at third, but his throw was down the third baseline, and catcher Jason Castro was unable to apply a tag.
If the eighth was lucky for the Braves it was unlucky for the Astros, even though they scored their second run. Yordan Alvarez led off the inning with a triple high off the center-field wall, a ball he just flicked almost out of the park at its deepest part. He scored on a Correa groundout.
With two outs Yuli Gurriel hit a towering shot to left-center off the wall inches below the yellow home run line. Eddie Rosario played the ball perfectly off the wall, made a perfect throw to second, and thanks to a too early slide by Gurriel, was able to get Gurriel out at second to end the inning.
A ball that missed being a home run by two inches ended up the third out.
After Stanek’s misfortune in the eighth inning, Raley shut down the Braves for the rest of the game. Overall, it was another excellent performance by the bullpen. In total, the pen pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the one run being the fluky run charged to Stanek.
What doomed the Astros was another meltdown by Framber Valdez, only eight hits by the offense, mostly concentrated in batters 2 and 6 (Brantley and Tucker), eleven strikeouts, and a one for nine record with runners in scoring position.
So the question re-emerges. Do the Astros have any reliable starting pitching? If Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia revert to the form they had in the early ALCS as Valdez did tonight, this series could be over early.
There’s one silver lining for the Astros, in a bittersweet way. The Braves’ best pitcher, our eternal friend regardless, Charlie Morton, suffered a fractured leg and will not pitch again this series. So the Braves will struggle to find starting pitching from here on out as well.
Tomorrow the Astros send up Urquidy. Let’s hope he gives the Stros a fighting chance.