The Houston Astros ended 2020 by playing seven games in seven days against the Tampa Bay Rays, so why not open 2021 with a contest against the other major league team that calls Florida home?
Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training for the Astros a week and a half ago, and on Sunday, it was time to return to competitive action at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Sure, the result might look a bit less than desirable on paper as the Miami Marlins ended up with a 6-1 victory, but the meaning of the game is way more than something that can be found in a simple box score.
The long, cold, cruel days of winter are over. The grass is green once again. If one goes near any batting cage in America, they are likely to hear the crack of a bat and the lovely sound of a baseball hitting a glove.
And best of all? Fans are slowly being allowed back in ballparks across the country as life continues to work its way back to normal. Taking the field before an announced crowd of 1,569 on Sunday had to feel like a sold-out Minute Maid Park for the Astros, who played in front of a total of zero fans in 2020.
As all of baseball continues to look to put a bizarre 60-game season in the rearview mirror, proper strength conditioning and load management will be a big topic throughout the spring as all 30 teams are preparing to go back to the normal 162-game grind of a regular season.
With this comes a unique way to go about business, as spring training games will be condensed in the early going. Managers from both teams can agree to have the contest last anywhere from five to seven innings if they wish, with the usual nine-inning games still on the table. Astros manager Dusty Baker and Marlins skipper Don Mattingly determined seven would be plenty on Sunday.
Brandon Bielak became the first hurler to take the mound for the Astros in 2021, and things got off to a rocky start. Marlins top prospect Jazz Chisholm immediately took Bielak deep for an opposite-field solo blast to start the game. The next three batters reached as well, culminating with a two-run shot off the bat of Lewis Brinson to make it 4-0 Miami before an out was recorded.
However, Bielak was able to end his afternoon on an encouraging note as he induced six consecutive ground ball outs following Brinson’s homer.
Houston plated their lone run in the home first as Jason Castro provided a happy welcome back moment. In his first plate appearance as an Astro since Sept. 30, 2016, Castro singled home Kyle Tucker to cut Miami’s lead to 4-1. Castro and Myles Straw each finished 2-for-2 before calling it a day.
Keep it up Myles.
More bright spots came from non-roster invitees Seth Martinez and Kit Scheetz, who each tossed a scoreless inning out of the bullpen.
March 2021 will open with a baseball game for the Astros, just as it did in 2020. With the baseball world hoping for a much happier March this year, the Astros and Nationals will begin their month with a 1:05 p.m. local time first pitch in Palm Beach on Monday afternoon.