GAME 152 - September 22: Nationals 4, Houston 3
GAME 153 - September 23: Nationals 7, Houston 2
I was having quite a good time at the Astros game on Tuesday night, right up until the bottom of the eighth inning when J A Happ's nice shutout start turned into a meltdown rout. The good news first: I got a chance to snap some photos of newly acquired players, who weren't in my collection from Spring Training. More good news: Happ threw 6 innings, giving up only 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. He didn't give up his first hit until the fifth inning (a fact pointed out in a blur of beer breath by the guy who sat next to us: "Didja know yer guy has a no hitter going?" Well, duh, not that I was going to mention it). Another good start for the Astros rotation -- happy tidings for those of us who are thinking ahead to next season.
Astros hitters, meanwhile, got off to a quick offensive start with a three-run first inning. Bourgeois, filling in for Bourn (still out with strained oblique), singled, stole second, and scored on Keppinger's single -- all in the first 5 pitches of the game. Michaels, starting in left, hit a 2-run homer to cap the inning. That was all the offense that the Astros were able to muster for a while, but with Happ's good work on the mound, it didn't seem to matter much.
Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn't able to keep up the good work, starting with Melancon (another newbie added to my Astros photo album), who gave up a run in the seventh.
The real damage came in the eighth inning. It started out inauspiciously, with Brydak's leadoff 4 pitch walk to Adam Dunn. Paulino, back from his long stay on the DL, got two quick outs, before throwing the hung curveball that resulted in a game-tying homer to Pudge Rodriguez. I have to give credit to my host for this game, my friend Peter, who called that homer at the beginning of the inning. (Thanks for a fun evening, Peter -- but not for that called homer!) Here's Peter looking very pleased with himself:
I then predicted that the game would go on, tied, for 14 innings -- a claim that quickly turned out to be erroneous, as Paulino allowed two more singles and a pair of walks. Here's Paulino talking about his woes with Castro and Manzella.
I groaned as I saw Lindstrom coming in from the bullpen, since he's been anything but lights out recently. Sure enough, he allowed 3 consecutive hits, to dump a couple of extra runs on Paulino's tab. Villar finally put an end to the two-out barrage, but not before the Nats had scored 7 -- payback apparently for last night's fifth inning. Here's Villar, one of our September gang:
Down 8-3, the Astros did not totally cave. CJ bravely homered to deep center field, but it was too little, too late, to save the game. Here's CJ's ninth inning home run swing:
In other bad news, Hunter Pence came up to bat (grounded out) in the first inning, then did not come out to the field for the bottom of the inning. Turned out that he was removed after experiencing discomfort in his right hip, but I didn't know the reason until I got home and read the results. That must have been very disappointing for some of his relatives, who I met in the subway, all wearing Pence shirts. I asked if they wanted to be my Fans of the Game, and here they are -- Brandi, Mike, Ben and Evelyn:
By the way, that's not a Nationals jersey Brandi's wearing -- it's a Pence National League All Star shirt.
A couple more game photos to add to my collection of new Astros players - here's Brett Wallace playing first base, late in the game Tuesday night:
And here's Castro behind the plate:
I missed the last two games of the Nationals series, due to celebration of Sukkot. So I didn't see the close loss on Wednesday night, when Fulchino blew Wandy's 3-3 tie by giving up a homer in the bottom of the seventh. Or the not-so-close loss on Thursday night, when Figuero was tagged for 5 runs, including a pair of homers. I'm not going to write these up, since I didn't watch them -- coming up for air after the Sabbath ended, I was 4 games behind in baseball-watching. Unfortunately, with these 3 consecutive losses to the Nats, the Astros were back to 7 games under .500, with only 9 games left in the season. Not mathematically eliminated from the goal of finishing up with a winning record, but not looking good either.
As I write this up, I'm watching the Friday night game, which has a happier ending. I'll tell you about it in my next blog.