GAME 139 - September 9: Astros 4, Cubs 0 (Happy Birthday, Marissa and Ariella!)
GAME 140 - September 10: Astros 4, Dodgers 3
GAME 141 - September 11: Dodgers 4, Astros 2 [11 innings]
GAME 142 - September 12: Dodgers 6, Astros 3
GAME 143 - September 13: Astros 7, Dodgers 3
Sunday Morning: When I turned on my computer after the Sabbath ended, I realized that catching up on the three days of games I'd missed during the Rosh Hashanah/Sabbath combo would be an impossible task. So I watched the end of last night's game live, and then just browsed the boxes and writeups of the others. Maybe I'll try to catch a few innings of the other games before this afternoon's finale against the Dodgers. Can't miss that - Brad Ausmus will be the starting catcher for LA. I read online that Ausmus would be interested in a future role with the Astros, the team that he played most of his long career with. Now wouldn't that be an interesting combo -- Ausmus and Bagwell in the dugout together, managing and coaching the team. Maybe start by brining in Ausmus as the pitching coach, and then move him up to manager? Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself - for today, at least, he's playing for the enemy.
The Astros did very well on Rosh Hashanah. Wednesday night they shut out the Cubs 4-0 to win the series in Chicago, behind the incredibly consistent Brett Myers. Retiring the first 14 batters he faced, Myers took a perfect game into the fifth inning, then went on to complete 7 innings -- his 29th consecutive 6+ inning start. Abad, Lindstrom, Brydak, and Lopez combined to finish off the other two innings for the win. On the offense, Pence hit another homer (#23), and CJ, Kepp, and Q each got a pair of hits and an RBI.
Second night of Rosh Hashanah, the Astros went back home to start a 4-game series against the Dodgers. The player of the game, for good and bad, was Chris Johnson. CJ started out the game by making a fielding error, setting the stage for a 2-run homer that put the Astros behind. He struck out in 3 of his 4 at bats. All in all, it would have been a night to forget. But in the sixth inning, with Pence and Lee on base, CJ smoked a fast ball 417 feet, over the railroad tracks in left field, to give the Astros a 3-2 lead. Meanwhile, after that first inning homer, Bud Lite didn't give the Dodgers much to play with and finished up with 6 innings of 3 hit ball, striking out 7. Chacin loaded up the bases in the seventh inning on a single and a pair of walks, but Melancon finished off the inning with no damage to the Astros slim lead. Melancon then threw a scoreless eighth, and Lyon got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Friday night, while we had a nice Sabbath dinner with the Fainchteins, the Astros were dueling with the Dodgers for 11 innings of a low-scoring game. Houston's starter Happ had a tough battle in his 5 innings, giving up 7 hits, but only a single run. Mills then used 8 Astros pitchers over the next 6 innings. With the score still tied 2-2, September callup Fernando Abad gave up a 2-run homer in the 11th inning. With 2 outs and a runner on first, Mills brought in Henry Villar for his big league debut. He prompt made a fielding error to put a second runner on, but then struck out the next batter to end the threat. On the little offense that Houston mustered, Bourn went 3 for 5, with his pair of RBI singles accounting for all of the Astros' runs. The Astros had the perfect opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the tenth, when Bourn hit a one out triple. But ex-Astro closer Octavio Dotel got back-to-back swinging Ks against Kepp and Pence to prolong the agony. I can only imagine the collective groan of the 31,000 fans. More than 30K fans showing up for a team so far down in the standings? Shows you what an infusion of youth and winning will do -- even if it's too little, too late for the season.
I tuned into Saturday night's game after the Sabbath ended, just after the Dodgers had scored 3 in the fourth inning with a homer and three singles. That was pretty much all that LA could do against Wandy, who settled down and stayed in for 7 innings, giving up just those 3 runs on 5 hits, 3 walks, and 10 strikeouts. Meanwhile, his teammates scored one run for him in the fourth, when Bourn tripled, and then scored on Keppinger's single. Then they got two more runs in the fifth, starting with Brett Wallace's leadoff homer (#2), then a pair of singles, a sac bunt by Wandy, and Bourn's ground out RBI. That tied it up 3-3, but the Astros didn't manage to score again on Wandy's watch, leaving him with a No-D for his trouble. Given how much work the bullpen had in Saturday night's game, Mills went for his closer in the ninth, even though the score was tied. But this wasn't Lyon's night, starting with a 3-2 walk to kick off the inning. Then a bunt was misplayed by Wallace (scored as a single) put a second runner on. Another sac bunt... and this time it was Lyon who misplayed it with a wild throw, scoring the tie-breaking run, and an extra one for good measure -- a 2 run error, leaving a runner on third with no outs. That was it for Lyon. Brydak gave up a fly ball to right, which bounced off Pence's glove. By the time Bourn fielded it, it was a called a double, not an error on Pence. But even if Pence had caught it, the runner on third would have scored. That run was just gravy anyway, as the Astros didn't put up a fight in the bottom of the ninth.
What do these 4 games have in common? Same answer as most of my other blogs in the last month or two -- solid starting pitching that has allowed the team to get into late innings either leading or tied. That doesn't necessarily lead to starting pitchers with a pile of wins, with so many games either won or lost after the starters were done. But it does mean that going forward into a better-luck next year, the Astros have some nice talent to choose from.
I need to put in a few hours of work this morning, so I can free up in time for the first pitch at 2 this afternoon... More later!
Sunday @ 5:30: For about an inning, it looked like Houston might have one of those wild runaway train extravaganzas, with double digit runs, and all kinds of fun. The Astros batted around in the first inning, with Hunter Pence's 2 run homer in a starring role. Four runs scored, and we're already thinking "blowout." However, as I tweeted to whoever might be following:
"Dodgers on their 2nd pitcher in the 2nd inning. But don't get too smug Astros Fans! We've lost one of these 4 run first inning games before"
I wasn't actually predicting that they'd go off and try to DO that. Just about then, I noticed that Roy O was about to pitch the ninth inning of a 3-0 game against the *(^&*% Mets (my least favorite team). So I decided that with that nice 4-run lead, Nelson Figueroa could just hold the fort while I watched the Wiz secure a complete-game shutout. Oswalt did great, got the win, putting the Phillies in sole ownership of the NL East (at least until the Braves play tonight). It's just what Oswalt wanted - to play for a contender, to make a difference. He's been pitching great, has made a difference for the Phillies -- more power to him. I'll cheer for him, as long as he's not playing the Astros. That game over, I returned to the Astros game, and find that the 4-game lead is now evaporated, and that it's now a tie. Geez! I take my eyes off them for a lousy half inning, and look what happens!
So, not a blowout, not a walk in the park, not a slam-bam done-deal. Instead it looks like it's going to be another close game, tie game, wait-until-the-last-minute game. Figueroa didn't make it out of the fifth inning, leaving the game with two outs and two on, no chance to win it, but still a chance to lose. These days, a rarity - not a quality start. Chacin came in, walked the next batter to load the bases, and then got that third out to end the threat. For his one-third inning bit of work, Chacin ended up being the pitcher of record when the Astros put a pair of runs on the board with a trio of doubles (Wallace, Castro, Blum) in the bottom of the inning. Carlos Lee, who had passed up a chance or two for real heroics earlier in the game, hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to give the Astros a nice calm 3 run lead. Brydak, Fulchino, Abad, Lindstrom, and Lyon combined for the other 4 innings, shutting down the Dodgers on just 2 hits.
So the Astros tied the series with a comfortable win. I was thinking that, if it really did turn into a blowout, they could afford the luxury of pulling a Mike Hampton deal on Ausmus -- throwing him a nice fat fastball over the plate and letting him take his chances. Sure enough, Ausmus came up in the ninth inning, but it wasn't good buddy Hampton on the plate. Ausmus grounded out to Lyon to finish off his 0 for 4 day. He got a nice standing O from the Astros fans after his last Houston at-bat before retirement. Of course, many of us are hoping to see him back again soon, and not wearing a blue jersey next time.
With 19 games to go, the Astros are just 7 games under .500. They're not going anywhere near the playoffs, of course, but there's still a chance to finish the season in the win column. It would take a heroic run, but hey -- there's always something to hope for. Other things to hope for: Hunter Pence is at 84 RBI - can he reach 100? Carlos Lee too (he's at 83)? Let's also hope that Brett Myers throws a complete game tomorrow. The Dodgers series really wore out our bullpen! And while we're at it - peace in the Middle East? Okay, I'm being greedy. Bring on the Brewers!