April 24: Brewers 5, Astros 2
April 25: Brewers 9, Astros 8 [11 innings]
April 26: Astros 3, Brewers 2
"Slowest. Game. Ever."
That was the tweet from Alyson Footer during the seventh inning of today's game. Her game writeup on Astros.com started out: "This wasn't the quickest game in team history, nor was it the prettiest." She explained that comment on Twitter as well: "'This wasn't the quickest game in history, nor was it the prettiest,' actually means, 'the game was so slow i wanted to gouge my eyes out.'" Wow, that's pretty slow.
But was it really the slowest game ever?
Maybe Alyson just had a hot date, or an appointment to have her hair straightened, or some other good reason to be in a rush to get out of Minute Maid Park? So I took a look at the numbers. At 3:26, today's game was almost a full hour shorter than last night's 11-inning ping-pong game. Just for grins, I compared the game length to the other NL games today:
2:35 : Pittsburgh's 8-3 win over the Padres: 6 pitchers, 282 pitches
2:36 : Atlanta 8-2 win over Reds: 6 pitchers, 258 pitches
2:42 : Rockies 10-4 over the Dodgers: 7 pitchers, 282 pitches
2:52 : Nats 8-1 win over Mets: 8 pitchers, 312 pitches
2:57 : Cubs 10-3 win over Cards: : 9 pitchers, 317 pitches
3:22 : Phillies 13-2 win over Marlins: 8 pitchers, 371 pitches
3:26 : Astros 3-2 win over Brewers: 10 pitchers, 320 pitches
3:45 : Arizona 5-4 win (12 innings) over Giants: 11 pitchers, 358 pitches
Okay, it was a long game, only 19 minutes shorter than the 12 inning game in Arizona. Notably, there were significantly fewer total runs scored in the Astros' game (5) than in all the others - no other NL game today had less than 9 combined runs. Perhaps long games with lower scoring just seem even longer? An exception might be when one of the teams has a starting pitcher with a great game going; who'd get bored during a no-hitter? In this case, the Astros used 5 relievers over 4 innings, which may be less compelling. (The exception, of course, would be the Astros' 7-pitcher no hitter against the Yankees.) On top of the relatively high pitch count in the Astros-Brewers game, there were 13 pickoff attempts (12 by Milwaukee pitchers), including 9 in the bottom of the eigtht just trying to get Pence on first. All of which slow down the game...
So there may be reason to complain that the game went long. However, it was not the "Slowest. Game. Ever." I know that for a fact, because I was at the Astro's Slowest Game Ever: It was April 15, 1968, when the Astros and Mets went at it for 24 innings, with the score tied 0-0. Alyson was not actually at that game, since she wasn't born yet. (Jeff Bagwell wasn't born until a month later.) The game was so slow that after about 16 innings, the lightbulbs that made up the Astrodome's wonder-of-the-world scoreboard started flashing funny messages, like:
THE JUDGE WANTS TO GO TO BED (referring to owner Judge Roy Hofheinz, who had an apartment in the Astrodome)
And my favorite, after the 3rd out of the 17th or so:
I THINK I'M GOING TO THROW UP.
Understand, this was in the tamer days before Wayne and Garth's 100 terms for vomiting, and we kids laughed our heads off to see a reference to spewing on the scoreboard.
Since we were young kids, my dad made us leave at midnight after 18 innings. So we were not actually there to see the biggest event of the evening, when Bob Aspromonte's ground ball went through the Mets' shortstop's legs, scoring Norm Miller from third. My mom was pretty pissed off when we got home so late on a school night. But - even though this was surely the Astros' Slowest. Game. Ever - we didn't want to leave. We were having a great time.
I am not generally impatient for the game to be over, especially on the few occasions that I'm actually there in person. Usually it's just the opposite - the games seem to be over so quickly. Maybe when the Astros are playing on the West Coast, and I'm up till 1 AM Eastern time, falling asleep at the computer. But for normal games, like today's, I don't really mind slow games - at least when the Astros are winning.
For my anniversary present in 2006, I requested that my husband (a Hebrew poet from Lubbock - don't ask) give me a unique gift: A Hebrew translation of Take Me Out to the Ballgame that was true to the rhyme and the rhythm (so I could sing it at games) and the sense of the song. Knowing how much I enjoyed watching games for hour after hour, he translated "I don't care if I never get back" as "Inshallah yiyu sham meah sivuvim" - I hope there will be 100 innings. Okay, it's an exagerration, and a bullpen nightmare. But it rhymed well and the basic idea is there: A long game is a good thing. (One has to assume that the lyracist Jack Norworth did not mean that he'd "never get back" because he'd be mugged on the subway coming home from the game.)
So, sorry Alyson, hope you weren't late for your evening plans, but I enjoyed the s...l...o...w game today, especially because the Astros won.
How they did it: Astros starter Russ Ortiz pitched 5 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits, 4 walks, and striking out 3. Not a long start, but enough to qualify for the win. He was backed up by a terrific quintet from the bullpen: Wright, Sampson, Brocail (welcome back!), Hawkins, and Valverde. One night after blowing a save by giving up a two run homer to Fielder, Valverde was back on the mound, visibly limping from his injury last week. But this time he was on target, and it ended with Fielder making the last out of the game.
The Astros scored all 3 of their runs in the first 4 innings, and that was all they could muster. One run came from a fielding error (we'll take it!), another from Lee's RBI single. The go-ahead run was courtesy of Pudge's fourth inning solo shot. Pudge also looked good behind the plate, throwing out two Brewer runners who had the audacity to attempt base thefts. Blum celebrated his 36th birthday by going 2 for 4. Berkman went 0 for 4 (when do we get to call it a "slump"?).
So the Astros pulled one out of the hat today, avoiding a sweep by the Brewers. Friday night's game, which I missed because of the Sabbath, was one of those gloomy games where the Astros get behind and just can't come back. (But at least it had a quick 2:14 game time - it wasn't slow!) The Astros had a short-lived 2-0 lead, thanks to Lee's 2-run homer in the fourth inning. Astros' starter Paulino got off to a good start for the first 4 innings, then the wheels came off in the fifth when he gave up 4 runs on 6 singles. But his teammates couldn't seem to do much else offensively. The notable play of the game had this innocuous line on the pitch-by-pitch:
J.J. Hardy:Ball, Strike looking, Ball, Hardy singled to right, Cameron out at home.
It looked a whole lot worse on the video: Pence did a great job with an outfield assist from right, shooting the ball to Quintero well upline from the plate. Q was there with the ball in hand to tag Mike Cameron, who came barrelling into him, knocking him flat. Quintero held on to the ball for the out, but it cost him a trip to the DL. (The fair-haired JR Towles was called up from Round Rock to fill in.)
I tuned into Saturday night's game as soon as the Sabbath ended - just in time to see the Astros blow a 4-1 lead on Bill Hall's 3-run homer in the sixth. The Astros had taken the lead in the fourth inning on Lee's 2-run home run, followed by starting pitcher Hampton's RBI single. Bourn added one more in the fifth with a solo homer, his first of the year.
The game stayed in a tie until the bottom of the eighth, when Hawkins gave up a pair of runs on a walk, three singles, and a sac fly. That's when it turned into a ping pong game. The Astros came right back in the bottom of the inning to score 3 - the first of which was JR Towles' (fresh up from the farm) RBI single. Matsui hit a 2-RBI double to retake the lead, 7-6.
But Valverde - who does not really look okay after his injury last week - blew the save opportunity, giving up a 2-run homer to Prince Fielder in the top of the ninth. The Astros came back again in the bottom of the inning, when Berkman (who had gotten on after being hit by a pitch) scored on a throwing error that should have ended the game. All tied up at 8-8 - extra innings.
The Astros loaded the bases in the tenth, but failed to score. Geary, who had pitched a scoreless 10th stayed in for the 11th with less luck. He gave up a leadoff double, followed by a single to put the Brewers ahead 9-8. Geary went on to load up the bases with no outs, but worked his way out of the mess without any additional damage.
That brought the Astros to the bottom of the inning, down by one. Pence led off with a single, Smith failed to advance him attempting unsuccessfully to bunt, and the game ended, as the poet said, not with a bang but a whimper.
The other entertainment in this game was the Astros' annoyance with the way home plate ump Mark DiMuro was calling balls and strikes. After several players (notably Berkman, who's having serious woes at the plate) complained, Pudge got into a spat when he was catching. He was ejected and Cooper, to be supportive, got himself tossed out too.
Coming from behind is a good thing, and the Astros' being able to do it a couple of times in Saturday night's game gives me hope. But a loss is a loss. In the end of the season, it will just be another April loss that contributed to a big hole that the Astros dug. Let's hope they don't wait until August this year to start digging themselves out!