Despite it being Earth day, and the Astros wearing their “Play Green” caps, there was plenty of power to be had tonight in Minute Maid Park. Five balls left the yard tonight, three from the Dodgers in the sixth inning alone, and the Astros beat the Dodgers 6-5 to take the series from the Dodgers.
If Houston continues to hit for extra bases, they will sweep this series, there is little doubt in my mind. In fact, I’ll make a bold prediction: If the home team gets more than three XBH, they will win.
If there’s a dark lining to the silver cloud (or something), it’s that the entire Dodgers pitching staff finished this game with just 107 pitches thrown. Roy Oswalt alone threw 108 in 6.0 IP. If the Astros hitters cannot work deeper into counts – and do it habitually – we will lose more of these close games than we will win. It’s that simple. Baseball is a game of attrition. Relief pitchers are worse pitchers than starters are; that’s why they’re in the bullpen. If you can’t work your way to them early in games, you aren’t going to win as many games. Really.
But we did win this one, and I have to give credit to Ivan Rodriguez. I was quick to point out a sloppy couple of pitch sequences he called with Mike Hampton on the mound, so it’s only fair that I point out one that he called tonight to strike out Casey Blake in the top of the eighth:
Now, what do I love about this sequence? First, I have to remind you that the pitcher is Chris Sampson, who is – like Blake – right-handed. Then, I have to explain, in case it’s not obvious, that pitches 1, 4, and 5 are sliders; pitches 2 and 3 are fastballs; and pitch 6 is a curveball. He began this at-bat by getting Blake looking outside… first with the breaking stuff, then with a fastball. Then, to keep him from getting too comfortable out there, he backs him off of the plate with a slider at his hip that breaks out over the plate.
That’s devastating enough, then he throws a couple of chase pitches that Blake doesn’t bite at, but they’re enough to get him leaning out… and he’s wondering when he’s going to get the fastball. Then it comes – a mistake pitch over the heart of the plate. Or so he thinks. Instead, it’s the curveball he hasn’t seen all night, which he flails at as it falls off the table with its 13″ break.
Well played, Pudge. Well played. I can safely say J.R. Towles would not have called that sequence in a million years. He’s more of an inside-outside guy who prefers the changeup as the out pitch. Sampson, too, likes the changeup. Which Blake probably knew, but he never saw one.
Pudge’s RBI single in the bottom of the eighth? I’m far less enthused about that. But so long as he calls these kinds of sequences behind the plate, I’ll be happy.
Sometimes we forget what an oddity Tal’s Hill is out in centerfield, because we’re so used to it. But the impact it can have on visiting players is very real, as this article about Matt Kemp can attest.
“You have to really count your steps out there,” Kemp said. “There’s
really no kind of practice for trying to run up a hill and trying to
catch a ball. I don’t think there is.”
Did we mention there’s a flagpole sticking out of the middle of Tal’s Hill? It’s true.
“The flagpole at least has a little padding on it,” Kemp said. “It’s a
little weird. There’s a lot of weird things going on out there in
Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar, Tal’s Hill is a steep incline in center field that starts behind the warning track and goes until the center fielder is 436 feet away from the plate. Minute Maid Park is thought of as a band box – and it is – but it’s extremely deep to center field, and the hill at the end of the run is no picnic.
It’s a sort of an homage to “The Terrace” at the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. A lot of parks used to have them, but most (Fenway Park’s “Duffy’s Cliff” comes to mind) have been leveled out. Tal’s Hill is, I believe, the only one in the major leagues.
On Jason Michaels‘ two-run double in the sixth inning that tied the game 4-4, Kemp appeared to be dogging it in center field. I believe that this can be directly attributed to his confusion over Tal’s Hill.
I wouldn’t ordinarily ask you, my dear reader(s), to go to Reds.com to do anything, much less something a Reds blog suggested, but I really do believe that this is a worthy cause.
Reds.com announced a contest for fans to vote on which pitcher’s bobblehead they were going to give away. In addition to the usual suspects – Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, et al – they included some minor leaguers, including one Sam LeCure.
The guys over at OMGReds have asked everyone to go over and vote for Sam LeCure to get a bobblehead. Imagine the look on some poor middle-aged sap’s face when he goes through the turnstiles at Great American Ballpark and gets handed a bobblehead for a player he’s never heard of in his entire life.
You can vote here.
(For the male member(s) of my reading audience, if shocking a middle-aged Reds fan isn’t enough incentive, it would make Mrs. LeCure very happy. And when a woman looks like Mrs. LeCure, and is willing to date a schlub who looks like Mr. LeCure, isn’t that exactly the type of woman you’d like to make happy?)
Kepp Kepp Hooray
Jeff Keppinger continues to impress. He has hit safely in eight straight games as an Astro – coincidentally, the exact number of games he’s played as an Astro. In addition to that, his throws from third to first look very strong and effortless. The top of the second was score 5-3/5-3/5-3, and each ball was fielded hard in the pocket, but he easily threw out the runners, who included Russell Martin and Matt Kemp, who are not easy outs in the infield.
His .455/.520/.773 as a Houston Astro are not sustainable, but what a great start to his Houston career. With righty Chad Billingsley on the mound, Keppinger will probably have the day off tomorrow.
Speaking of Billingsley
He is one of only five starting pitchers yet to surrender a home run, and he’s walking into Minute Maid Park tomorrow, where the balls have looked awfully lively lately. If you play HR Beat The Streak, I’m thinking Lance Berkman has to look like a really good choice, as the only power-hitting lefty in the lineup. Berkman is 2-for-12 career against Billingsley with no XBH, but that could change tomorrow.
Progressive Fan of the Game
The “Progressive Fan of the Game” during tonight’s Fox Sports Houston telecast was former Astro Roger Clemens, who is apparently an Astros season ticket holder. He was at the game, looking not terribly unlike an oilier version of my older brother Kenneth, watching his friend Roy Oswalt pitch. He was also completely douched out with his laptop and earpiece so that he could hear his son, Koby, play for the Lancaster Jethawks.
When I go to Jethawks games, am I going to run across the Rocket?
A couple of games ago, they profiled two white trash twenty-somethings who’d snuck to the top of the bleachers to “be alone,” aka dry hump one another. I felt less sleazy after that than I did watching Roger Clemens speak for three minutes.
Kudos of the Day
I offer Carlos Lee my sincere admiration for not only managing not to topple after this swing, but for actually turning it into a single. That’s a big load to keep upright, right there:
If I’m Joe Torre – and I think it’s important to stress that I am not – I know a few things right now. I know that I’m leading my division, and even if I lose tomorrow and the Padres win, the worst we’ll be is tied. I know I’ve already lost this series. I know that I have six games left in my road trip, all against division opponents, immediately followed by an 11-game homestand, all but three of which are against division opponents.
I know I want to keep my guys as fresh as possible so that I can be best-suited for those divisional matchups, and I know that I have a bench player who would get a standing ovation during a road game. Could we see Brad Ausmus suit up? I think we could.
What Happened Was…
Houston Astros (MLB) – You all know by now how this one ended, or at least I hope you do.
Round Rock Express (AAA) – As I was watching the Astros on MLB.tv (no Channel 9 feed tonight), I had the Express game on Gameday. As the Dodgers put up four runs in the sixth, the New Orleans Zephyrs (FLA) put up three in the sixth. As Hunter Pence hit a Ground Rule Double in the eighth, the Zephyrs’ Michael Ryan hit a Ground Rule Double in the eighth. These were happening nearly simultaneously. It was creepy. New Orleans won handily, 8-3. Of the Express’s 10 hits, only 1 – a double by John Gall – was an XBH. Neal Musser threw two wild pitches. In the same inning. The Express used five pitchers, and only two – Casey Daigle and Chad Paronto – didn’t allow runs. Ryan McKeller got five outs, three of them strikeouts, but found time to walk two and allow a hit. Everyone’s favorite Saccomanno, Mark Saccomanno, was 0-for-5 with an RBI, which doesn’t sound that spectacular until you realize that he now has 18 RBI in 14 games, which puts him on pace to have 183 in a 142-game season. He also played another game at third without an error, which is always an accomplishment. Gall, 2B Matt Kata, and OF Eli Iorg were each 2-for-4 on the night. Neither J.R. Towles nor Chris Johnson played.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks had a scheduled night off. Tomorrow, they’re back at Whataburger Field for a four-game set against the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), who enter the series with an identical 6-6 record. The RoughRiders feature 1B Justin Smoak. You might remember him as the guy we should have drafted instead of Jason Castro. It looks like the Hooks won’t have to face LHP Kasey Kiker, one of the top pitching prospects in the Rangers system.
Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The bullpen did their very best to spoil a great start by Christopher Hicks, but in the end, Lancaster ended up pulling out the victory over the Inl
and Empire 66ers (LAD), 4-3. Hicks was exceptional, striking out 9 in 5.0 IP, with 2 walks, 5 hits, and no earned runs. On the opposite side, Chris Withrow struck out 10 in the same period, walked two, and only allowed 3 hits, but a run scored on his watch. Sometimes there’s no justice in this game. Each successive Jethawks pitcher – Chia-Jen Lo, Reid Kelly, and Jordan Powell – allowed a run, but an RBI walk by Jason Castro in the top of the ninth proved to be the game-winner. Koby Clemens was behind the plate with Castro at DH, and his night was… well, let’s say mixed. At the plate, Clemens was 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI. Behind it, he was 1-for-2 on SB attempts, allowed a passed ball, and had a throwing error. But he’s still new at playing catcher, so this is to be expected. Castro was 0-for-3, but walked twice, scored a run, and had the aforementioned RBI. 1B Brian Pellegrini hit a solo home run, and SS Chris Minaker was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends got excellent performances from their pitchers as they beat the Hickory Crawdads (TEX), 4-3, on the road. Ross Seaton, a steal at #109 in last year’s draft, threw very well to earn the win. Okay yes, he hit three guys (well, two guys, but one of them twice), had a wild pitch, walked a guy, and allowed four hits and a run in 5.2 IP, but he struck out 6 earned the win. Henry Villar pitched three innings in relief, giving up two runs but none earned, and Daniel Meszaros recorded a single out to earn the save. Ross was matched by the Crawdads’ Martin Perez, who struck out six through 5.0 IP, but allowed two runs to earn the loss. It was a sloppy win, what with the HBPs, the WP, a PB, and 0-for-2 on SB attempts, but the Legends were able to string together just enough offense to pull it out. 1B Phil Disher hit a home run, and SS Ronald Ramirez, 2B Albert Cartwright, and OF Brandon Barnes each added a double. Not surprisingly, they accounted for 3 of the 4 runs (Barnes was erased on a CS). No Legend had more than a single hit.