Based on last year, if the Astros bullpen got a one-run lead going into the eighth inning, you would think the team's chances of winning were very much looking up.
But alas, tonight the bullpen let us down. (Apologies to Merle Haggard*)
Taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth, the Astros bullpen gave up three runs, and despite a too-little, too-late homer by Yordan Alvarez, the Astros fell 3-2.
But if you were looking for a pitcher’s duel in this Opening Day game between the Astros and White Sox, then the performances of starting aces Framber Valdez and Dylan Cease did not disappoint. Neither pitcher allowed a run, but Valdez had to show a little craft to keep his end of the bargain.
After mostly cruising for four innings with a slew of groundouts, Framber the old Framberin man re-emerged, barely squeezing out of trouble. Elvis Andrus started the fifth inning with a single, followed by a single to Romy Gonzalez that led to Andrus taking third on a good hustle play that caught CF Jake Meyers by surprise. However, Tim Anderson grounded to third baseman Alex Bregman who caught Andrus trying to go home.
It seemed Like Framber was out of trouble after striking out Luis Robert Jr. but just to make it exciting he hit Andrew Vaughn with a pitch on an 0-2 count, loading the bases. Of course, Valdez got out of trouble on a groundout, a bullet hit at 109 MPH right at Mauricio Dubon.
In all the boxes in the box score, Valdez lost the pitching duel with Dylan Cease except for the one that counts, runs scored. Valdez got through five innings, and allowed six hits, but no walks and no runs. Valdez had nine groundouts and no flyouts, (one pop-up). He threw 86 pitches, 56 for strikes.
The White Sox threatened again in the seventh against Hector Neris. With one out pinch hitter Oscar Colas singled followed by another single that was gloved by Jeremy Pena. Luis Robert loaded the bases on a catcher’s interference. But Neris left the Sox frustrated and flailing, striking out Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez to extinguish the fire.
In the seventh inning, the Astros mounted their first threat since the first inning when Jeremy Pena stole second after a leadoff single. With one out Yordan Alvarez was hit by a pitch, followed by a single by former White Sox Jose Abreu. These were the only two baserunners allowed by Cease since Pena in the first, but it was enough to chase him from the game.
The bases were loaded when Aaron Bummer walked Kyle Tucker, but he struck out rookie Yanier Diaz. However, the first pitch to Jake Meyers was a wild pitch that scored Yordan Alvarez.
Meyers ended up striking out, but the Astros drew first blood.
The White Sox blew another opportunity in the eighth when Yoan Moncada tried to take third after Jose Abreu let a ball go through his legs but was thrown out at third on a perfect throw by Mauricio Dubon.
However, Yasmani Grandal, who let the wild pitch go by him that allowed Alvarez to score, tied the game with a homer off Rafael Montero.
The White Sox took the lead in the ninth inning. With one out Ryan Pressly allowed a walk to Tim Anderson, a single to Luis Robert, and a two-run double to Andrew Vaughn, who broke the Sox’s 0-7 streak with runners in scoring position.
Yordan Alvarez made the game a little more interesting with a 442-foot homer off Reynaldo Lopez.
But Lopez got Abreu to ground out after ten pitches. And after a Kyle Tucker walk, Yainer Diaz struck out for the first Astros Opening Day loss after wins in the last ten years.
The blame for this loss can’t all fall on the bullpen. the Astros managed only four hits, with 13 strikeouts. Much of the credit for that goes to Sox starter Dylan Cease who was virtually unhittable.
Ryan Pressly was shaking his hand after almost every pitch. Is there a problem, Houston?
The Astros try again tomorrow at 7:10 CT with Cristian Javier going against Lance Lynn.
*Tonight, the Bottle Let Me Down, Merle Haggard