Free tickets for the game, and yes, I AM a sucker, but I want to watch the rookies, so I took Lil Miss and DaBull on down. I haven’t succeeded in turning my sons into baseball fans any better than my Mama did my brothers, so I have decided there is some kind of something wrong with their Y chromosome as us grrrrls are perfectly normal. I had significantly more trouble finding a parking place than I did a few weeks back, so I knew that it was gonna be an unusually well attended game for a Monday night.
Sure enough, the Box was packed with Braves fans – it’s absolutely amazing how the number of fans from the opposing teams show up in proportion to the team’s W/L record – well, except for Cubs fans, of course, but even their numbers are significantly down this year.
Lefty Mike Minor, the opposing pitcher, was the Braves 09 1st round pick – and was called up a few days ago to replace the injured Kris Medlin. For once, a team didn’t keep a superbly performing young player down to screw him out of a year of FA. I know that rooks usually KILL the Astros, so I was a bit apprehensive before the game.
Bourn hit Minor’s second pitch for a base hit (sigh of relief – we won’t get nohit) and stole second on the second pitch. Unfortunately, neither Kepp nor Pence drove him with long fly balls and he was left on 3rd. (It was the story of his night – he hit an IF single later and was stranded on second.)
Bud looked very good in the 1st – gave up a single to Chipper, but needed only 11 pitches to get out of the inning. In the second, he had a bit of his usual trouble finding the strike zone (and then throwing a gimmee strike which gets pounced on), but Astros fielding, in spite of some trouble saved him.
It was 2 out, Rick Ankiel on first (and Rick Ankiel runs like Pence) and Gonzalez hit a bullet down the LF line into the corner. Ankiel is off like a shot and Clank lumbers over to the corner. He picks up the ball, gets it in to Sanchez, the cutoff man, who picks up the throw on the SECOND bounce. Sanchez then STUPIDLY (rookie mistake) fires it home, where no fielder who ever lived had a snowflake’s chance in heck of getting Ankiel out – I’m not even sure that ANY OF who ever lived could have gotten Ankiel out. Castro, a smart fielder, didn’t waste one second trying to tag a guy who had already scored, but threw the ball to Keppinger at second because Gonzalez was midway between second and third. But Keppinger botched the rundown and his throw to CJ was so offline that Gonzalez easily slid into third.
That was TWO serious fielding screwups on one hit. But fortunately, the Braves rookie 21 year old pitcher (who was probably a leeeeeeetle nervous) made a baserunning mistake – he hit the ball into shallow center where Hunter Pence scooped it up, fired to first and Minor, who had slowed up nearing the bag, was out. Now it is true that Wallace was standing on the OF side of the bag, but he wasn’t BLOCKING it, but Minor needed to run through that bag, even tag it on the outside corner and he didn’t, so he was out and the run didn’t score, which was a VERY lucky break.
In the 3rd, Bud was pitching fine, made 1 mistake, a FB RIGHT down the middle, which Heyward sent straight into the RF bullpen. I will say, however, that it is amazing how many FB in the dead center of the strike zone do NOT get hit out. And are even swung on and missed. Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting the hitter’s timing, said Warren Spahn.
So it was Braves 2, Astros nada – and by the bottom of the 4th, after Bud threw a 10 pitch 1,2,3 out at the top, I was getting worried about us getting shutout. But Minor was going through the lineup for the second time and he was facing ML hitters. Kepp led off with a solid double to right, then Pence GO to short. Then, Minor got unlucky – he got Clank to pop up a pitch, BUT unfortunately for him (and fortunately for us) he had slow, lumbering Glaus on 1B and the ball wasn’t hit high enough to hang very long and it landed on the RF line about 60′ behind 1B and bounced into the stands for a GR double. Could, say, Baggy back in his prime have gotten that? I would say so – and it just might could have been a Web Gem.
Then it is CJ up – and in his first AB, minor had struck him out, but had shown him all 3 pitches, the FB, curve and change. So this time, CJ gave him a 9 pitch battle, fouling off 4 pitches before managing to get wood on the last changeup – and this one popped up a bit, but fell for a bloop hit in front of a diving Jason Heyward and Clank scored. Tie game on 2 lousy popups.
Then Brett Wallace comes up and drives in CJ on a double to the RF corner, which Heyward has a tough time retrieving.
HEY MILLSY, WALLACE SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO HIT LEFTYS!!! SO PLEASE STOP BENCHING HIM WHEN WE FACE LEFTYS!!!! THANK YOU!!!!
Castro, who wore the sombrero tonight, started off with 2 strikes, both high and outside (not sure why the ump called those 2 as strikes, seeing as how he was pretty good about not calling other pitches out of the zone as strikes) and he swung through the 3rd pitch.
So it was Stros 3, Braves 2.
Bud, as we know, has had a tough time holding leads, but he got 3 up 3 down in the 5th in spite of walking the pitcher!!!! on 4 straight pitches because he got a FO and a GIDP. Ufortunately, he did cough it up in the 6th – gave up a double to Chipper just inside the LF line, then threw a meaty slider down the middle (this is usually a bad idea) and McCann deposited it in the RF bullpen. Bud is a FB pitcher, and this stuff IS gonna happen IF he throws it down the middle just a lil too often.
And it’s Braves 4, Stros 3
But The Astros get lucky in the bottom of the inning. Pence walks, then steals second, then goes to 3rd when Clank GO. Then it’s CJ again, but he grounds out to short. Pence has already started for home and SHOULD have been dead meat, but Agon bobbles the ball, Pence is safe, CJ is safe. Tie game. (Remember, by the way, that AGon is the one who booted an EASY GIDP ball in the famous Bartman game and it was THAT play, not poor Bartman, who cost the C*bs the pennant, but I digress…) Minor must be ready to SCREAM. He’s had 4 runs score and only 2 well hit hits in 2 separate innings.
Fielding really IS something a pitcher needs, no matter HOW much he “knows how to win…”
I could see the steam coming from Minor’s ears and he pitched with cold fury, striking out both Wallace and Castro swinging. The guy pitched a VERY good 6 innings and had nothing to show for his trouble.
And Bud went back out to start the 7th. He’s getting better at pitching deeper into games. He got Alex Gonzalez to GO to CJ (who, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, is fielding MUCH better over the past 2 weeks), then got Ex-Stro Brooks Conrad (a switch hitting utility IF) to popup a 3-2 pitch to the foul railing at 3rd, where CJ managed to reach over and grab the ball in spite of fand grabbing for it. (As I said, he’s doing MUCH better these days.) Then Omar Infante hit a ball through the 5.5 hole and with lefty Heyward up, Mills decided to have Byrdak face him.
So all in all, Bud had a decent night – 3 well hit doubles, 2 homers, only 1 walk – 6.2 IP, 4 ER (see homers.)
And then, the Braves fielders REALLY imploded.
Kyle Farnsworth came in to relieve. He’s been in the AL for a long time now, and his last time at the Box wasn’t good (blew game 5 in 05 by giving up a homer to Slugger Brad Ausmus to tie the game, which the Braves had been winning by 5 runs. But I digress…)
Clutch God Blum came in to pinch hit and singled, then Bourgeois pinch-ran, then Bourn grounded him to 2nd. Sanchez walked. Kepp singled home Bourgy and it was men at first and second. With Pence up, and Cox trying for the GIDP, Sanchez and Kepp advanced on a WP (McCann didn’t block well), so they then IBB Pence hoping Clank would GIDP – a good bet.
In comes Moylan, the GB specialist, but Clank beats him with a blooper to shallow right and the Stros lead 5-4. Bases still loaded. Then stuff happened. Remember fielding?
CJ hits a clean single through the 5.5 hole and it goes into left. Hinske, the LF gets the ball, STUPIDLY doesn’t throw to the cutoff man, but throws home, STUPIDLY trying to get Pence, who runs FAST. McCann grabs the ball, throws to 3rd, trying to get Clank, who was like 2 steps from the bag ALREADY, and throws it into the LF corner where Hinske has to run it down and by the time he gets near the ball, CJ has already scored on his little league homer.
In comes a lefty and Brett Wallace smashes a hard single. Gee, looks like he can hit leftys, hunh? But Castro and Bourgy strand him, but it doesn’t matter because it’s 10-4 and Lyon and Lindstrom manage to hold it.
I like it when bad breaks go the Astros way.
And tonight, it’s J Happ, who is going to try to not look Happ-less again.
By the way, Wesley got sent down, no surprise. Figueroa is going to take his spot in the rotation. Lyles is NOT ready.