In Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rangers, Dallas Keuchel made his first start since July 27th. And it was a good one. In fact, it may have been the best performance by an Astros starter all season — with the possible exception of Erik Bedard‘s near no-hitter.
But, as has often been the case this summer, Keuchel’s performance went unrewarded. But it wasn’t the bullpen that let Keuchel down today. It was the offense. The Astros failed to score until Chris Carter blasted a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth. But, it was too little too late.
Keuchel had pinpoint control all afternoon. Consequently, he was able to work deep into the game — something that Astros starters have had trouble doing in 2013. Keuchel struck out eight and got what seemed like 25 weak grounders in 8 & 2/3 innings of work. After he retired the first 13 batters he faced, Alex Rios got what was ruled a hit on a grounder to shortstop that Jake Elmoretook too much time to throw to first base. Rios would end up scoring the first run of the game.
The Rangers would add an unearned run in the sixth thanks to (another) error by Elmore. Keuchel would take care of the Rangers in 1-2-3 fashion in both the seventh and eighth innings before running into some trouble in the ninth. And, as luck would have it for Keuchel, Rangers starter Martin Perez was matching his outstanding effort. When Keuchel took the mound in the ninth inning to go for the complete game the Astros trailed 2-0.
Keuchel, who had been working out of the bullpen for the last two weeks, understandably ran out of gas once he eclipsed the 100 pitch mark. He issued his first walk of the game and then he hit Craig Gentry with a pitch to load the bases with two outs. Jurickson Profar followed with a seeing eye grounder through the right side and L.J. Hoes came up firing.
Apparently Hoes saw an attractive young lady in the stands and wanted to give her a souvenir. His throw was nowhere near the plate and went all the way into the seats behind the visitor’s dugout. Three runs came home and Profar was awarded third base. It was now 5-0 but Bo Porter decided to leave Keuchel in to try for the complete game (loss). Leonys Martin then plopped a single into leftfield to make it 6-0 and Porter mercifully removed Keuchel from the game.
Porter was naturally reluctant to make the call to his feeble bullpen. But, in hindsight, his attempt to allow Keuchel to go for the complete game was shortsighted. Maybe if Keuchel hadn’t been juggled back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen in recent weeks he would have carried more stamina into the late innings. Or… maybe not. It’s easy to second guess Porter at this point — but the Astros weren’t going to win that game no matter who was on the mound in the ninth inning.
Both Keuchel and Porter gave it their best shot. And, as the case has been all to often this year for the Astros, it wasn’t enough.