The Houston Astros entered Saturday night’s game against Tim Lincecum and the Giants with 711 strikeouts, the most in the league. Lincecum, who has not been his freakish self this season, entered the contest having uncorked a league-high ten wild pitches. This combination of factors made for the perfect opportunity for the slumping Astros to try out a new offensive strategy. Striking out on wild pitches could drastically improve the team’s on-base percentage.
The whiff-and-run strategy was a sound one. The Astros could now capitalize on what they did best: swinging and missing. But things didn’t develop quickly on this night for the whiffing Houstonians. The Astros continued to flail wildly at all kinds of pitches but Lincecum just wasn’t throwing anything that catcher Hector Sanchez couldn’t reach. Fortunately, Astros starter Lucas Harrell pitched well enough to keep his team within striking distance and in the eighth inning things began to take shape.
The Astros entered the eighth trailing 2-0. Pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic made Lincecum throw nine pitches before lining a single up the middle. The stage was now set; Lincecum was tiring. But bad teams have trouble executing a game plan. Jordan Schafer tried to bunt his way aboard on the next offering from Lincecum and was thrown out at first. Maybe Schafer and the Astros were trying to get Timmy to throw wildly to first base. That would have been a seriously clever mutation of the newly adopted strategy, so I’m not quite ready to give Brad Mills and company that much credit. C’mon Brad, let’s just stick with our strength… striking out.
All-Star 2B Jose Altuve followed Schafer to the plate and was able to strike out on a pitch that eluded Hector Sanchez. Finally, an opportunity! Unfortunately, Altuve forgot to run. Realizing that he was unable to properly execute the whiff-and-run play, Altuve began to argue that he had fouled the pitch and was casually tagged out by Sanchez. With two outs it was now up to Brian Bixler to reach base without making contact. Bixler did a great job of swinging and missing on a 1-2 curveball in the dirt. Run Brian, run! But Bixler stayed anchored in the batter’s box complaining that he had checked his swing. Lincecum retrieved the ball near the first base coach’s box and tossed it to Brandon Belt to end the inning. Once again the Astros had failed to execute.
Lincecum left the game after eight innings having fanned eleven. The Astros had failed to capitalize on any of those strikeouts and would now try their luck against Giants closer Santiago Casilla. Scott Moore coaxed a walk in between (non-wild pitch) strikeouts by J.D. Martinez and Chris Johnson. Justin Maxwell followed with a double to the gap in right-center and the Astros were finally on the scoreboard. Chris Snyder was next, and perhaps the last chance for the Astros to work their whiff-and-run magic.
Snyder fanned on a 1-2 pitch in the dirt and lumbered towards first base. Sanchez scrambled to corral the ball and make a throw. Surely he had time to get one of the slowest runners in the league. But the throw was off-line and Snyder reached base safely, executing the whiff-and-run play to perfection. Justin Maxwell kept running and was heading for the plate! Brandon Belt made a desperate attempt to cut down the tying run but his throw was not in time. The Astros had tied the game! I love it when a plan comes together.
Matt Downs followed with a grounder to third and the Astros would eventually lose the game in 12 innings. Hector Sanchez would have the last laugh, driving home the game winning run against Brett Myers. Houston is now 0-9 in extra-inning affairs. Astros hitters struck out 16 times in the game, but none were so clutch as Chris Snyder’s. Look for this club to climb back out of the N.L. Central cellar as they perfect their new strategy.