GAME 17 - April 19: Astros 6, Mets 1
GAME 18 - April 20: Astros 4, Mets 3
GAME 19 - April 21: Astros , Mets 6
Well, it's now official: The Astros are WINNERS. Here we are, just three weeks into the season, and we've already won a series! Granted, they won their first series of the season against the only NL with a worse record than their own, the Unfortunate Mets. But that's the beauty of a "rebuilding" year -- we can celebrate every little success.
The Astros and Mets entered this series with identical sucky records. In the first game, Wandy faced off Jon Niese, a starter with a similar 0-2 record and high ERA. Wandy had been off, on, and off again in his earlier starts, and the on/off pattern continued with this game. Happily we were on the "on" side -- Wandy pitched a terrific start in the rain, giving up only a single run on a solo homer by (Boo) Beltran. Over 7 innings, he allowed 3 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 7. Bad weather, nice line. Abad and Fulchino pitched quiet innings to hold onto the lead, giving Wandy his first win of the season.
Wandy had a pretty nice lead to work with -- the Astros scored their first run before he ever took the mound, added on another run in the fourth and in the seventh, and 3 more in the eighth. So by the time the bullpen got into the action, the Astros were sitting pretty with a 6-1 lead. (Not that they haven't ever blown a big lead... but they didn't in this game!) This game was played Tuesday night, while I was sitting at my seder table with a dozen guests, talking about philology and philosophy and phood. (I really should blog about food instead of baseball -- I'd have more family interest.) Since I missed watching such a nice game live (and there haven't been that many of them this season!), I watched this game late Friday afternoon on the mlb.tv archive.
I was able to catch the end of Wednesday night's game, after the end of the (first round of) Passover holiday. When I turned on the computer, the Astros and Mets were tied 3-3. Bud Lite threw a quality start, although there were quite a few base runners on his watch. He pitched 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 10 hits, a walk, striking out 6. All that ran his pitch count over 100, taking Norris out of the game after 6 frames without a decision. That left 3 innings for the bullpen to handle. Melancon pitched a scoreless seventh. He was the pitcher of record when Pence ripped out a solo homer in the top of the eighth to give the Astros a 4-3 lead. Abad started a nerve-wracking eighth, with a walk, strikeout, and single to put runners on the corners with only one out. Mills gave the ball to Jose Valdez, in just his second big league appearance. Valdez struck out his first batter for the second out, but his nasty splitter bounced off Towles' glove onto the field, allowing the runner on third to dash for home. What happened next was just gorgeous fielding -- Valdez ran towards the plate, Towles ran to grab the ball and flipped it to Valdez, who tagged out the runner. Double play to end the threat.
But the fun didn't end there. Our closer Lyon still had to get through the ninth. After a leadoff single put Mets speedster Reyes on first, the Mets tried to bunt him over. The bunt popped straight to Lyons, who tossed it to Downs covering first, catching Reyes for the double play. A fly ball to Pence ended the game, giving the Astros a double milestone: First back-to-back wins of the season and first series win.
We don't have to talk too much about Thursday night's disappointing finale. JA Happ was all set to continue his good pitching to sweep the Mets, but it didn't quite work out that way. He got beat up, starting in the third inning, and by the time he handed off the ball to the bullpen in the middle of the fifth, the Astros were down 6-0. By the seventh inning, I was starting to worry -- not about the outcome of the game, but about the status of the Astros' streak of no-shutout games. Then Wallace led off with a double and scored on Matt Downs' RBI single, keeping the streak alive. Three weeks into the season and we still have not been shut out!
That was all the fun that the Astros had at the plate, but they did manage to give the Mets a good time in the eighth. With a runner on first and two outs, Jason Bay hit a pop up to shallow right field. Pence missed the catch, the ball rolled, and the bases cleared. When it was all over, the record book showed a two-run four-base error on Pence. Does it get any worse than that? (Yes -- if it had happened in a close game!) To add insult to insult, the next batter hit a solo homer to make it 9-1. But who's counting at that point? The Mets got a much needed laugher, and the Astros left town with a series win, but no sweep.
In the Old Friends department: Ex-Astros pitcher, Babyface Buchholz pitched for the Mets in the eighth and ninth innings. Tell me, did he always do that little girly-girl butt wiggle thing in his setup when he played for us? Or is that some kind of New Yorker thing?
Off to Milwaukee to play the Brewers, one of 4 teams in the NL Central division within 1/2 game of the lead. That just leaves the Pirates (bad) and the Astros (really bad) tagging along behind. I'm predicting a sweep. But I'm not saying which team will win.