The Astros entered Wednesday having lost 15 consecutive series to the Rangers. The Astros were horrendous in game one, and quite possibly played their best game of the year in game two winning 8-0. Looking to change the tide was former Ranger Scott Feldman. Feldman’s 3.26 career ERA would be put to the test against a star studded cast that the Rangers run out on a daily basis.
25 year old Nick Tepesch took the hill for the Rangers for the first time of the season, which represents the problem for the Rangers. It is hard to believe the Rangers have already used nine starting pitchers, and I cannot imagine the Rangers will finish above .500 with that recipe. Nick opened his 2014 campaign with a strikeout of Jose Altuve. After George Springer struck out, Dexter Fowler collected the first hit of the game with a roller up the middle. Fowler has quietly been very productive in the last couple weeks with an on base average in the high .300 regions. Jason Castro followed by lacing a double into the right field corner, giving the Astros an early scoring opportunity. Matt Dominguez worked the count to eight pitches before waving at a ball in the dirt stranding two runners on base.
The top of the second was not as kind to Scott Feldman when he gave up his first home run at home this season to Alex Rios. It was a solo shot into the second row of the Crawford Boxes, in what I like to call a “Crawford Special.” J.P. Arencibia and Leonys Martin chimed in with two out singles, however they were stranded on a Rougned Odor ground out. The Rangers lead 1-0.
In the bottom of the second, Marc Krauss‘s early count patience proved to be successful. He was able to draw a five pitch walk as Tepesch had looked erratic since the first pitch. Unfortunately the Astros went down easily between Carter, Presley, and Villar. On the plus side the Astros saw a lot of pitches and have not made it easy on Tepesch. To get through the first two innings he was forced into using all his pitches.
Scott Feldman retired Choo to start the third but would surrender singles to Andrus and Beltre putting him quickly in trouble. Fielder would get an RBI single on a ground ball that would go directly through the Astros goofy over shift. Had the Astros been in normal double play depth it would have been a sure double play. I have been very skeptical on shifting dramatically with runners on base, but that is an argument for another day. Feldman got that double play he wanted with Rios at the plate as they went 6-4-3 to round out the inning. The Rangers had a 2-0 advantage.
After Altuve and Springer were set down quickly, Dexter Fowler was able to reach base via the walk in the bottom of the third. Jason Castro continued his string of poor at bats with a strikeout and a harmless inning. Despite Tepesch’s struggles with control he was able to accumulate five strikeouts through the first three innings.
In the top of the fourth Feldman continued to waiver with his control as he struggled to find the plate, walking Mitch Moreland. Martin would follow with a one out infield single despite a dazzling effort by Jonathan Villar. Villar followed up a great effort with a great out, charging a slow roller by Odor and gunning him at first. Runners were at second and third for Choo when Matt Dominguez followed up with a tough play to help the Astros escape the top of the fourth. The Astros defense has been on point in this Rangers series, marking the third clean game in a row.
The Astros were retired one, two, and three in the bottom of the fourth. We have seen this before when the Astros get down they appear to get jumpy with their at bats. Heading into the fifth the Astros looked further and further from finding runs.
The top of the fifth opened up rudely when Elvis Andrus laced a double into the left field corner. It was even more rude when Beltre followed with a broken bat single just over Villar’s outstretched glove. The wheels started to come off when Prince Fielder laced a double the other way. Alex Presley tried to make a diving grab and by missing the ball on the dive, Beltre was able to score the fourth run from first. Feldman escaped the inning and the Astros trailed by four.
It was looking like it was just going to be one of those days when Alex Presley absolutely laced a line drive directly at Beltre for an out. Villar and Altuve would follow with outs allowing Tepesch to settle in. Primarily pitching off his low 90′s fastball Tepesch had completely overcome his control problems in the early inning. That is what a four run lead can do.
Checking in the game for the Astros in the top frame of the sixth was lefty Darin Downs. Darin faced three batters, while retiring two before giving way to Paul Clemens. Clemens was aided by an Odor caught stealing. The Rangers still comfortably lead 4-0.
Tepesch started the bottom half of the sixth much like he did in the fifth. Springer laced a liner towards the right side just to be snagged at second by Odor. After a one out walk to Fowler, Tepesch was removed. Tepesch threw 103 pitches and was pretty successful. I feel like the Astros could have got him for two runs early in the game, but just could not square the ball up when needed. Lefty Aaron Poreda checked in to neutralize Castro. Castro has not shown much with the bat lately, but he was able to help out in this inning with his eye. Jason drew the walk and gave the Astros their first run scoring opportunity in several innings. Dominguez laced a single into the 5.5 hole, loading the bases with one out. The merry-go-round continued when Jesus Guzman came in to pinch hit and drive the Astros first run in. The bases remained loaded when Carter hit a broken bat bleeder for and RBI single right on the left field line. The Astros had now plated two runs with the bases still chucked. It would L.J. Hoes pinch hitting for Presley and Jason Frasor coming in to pitch for the Rangers at this juncture. The moves were not finished, Bo Porter would counter again and pinch hit Marwin Gonzalez for Hoes. I sometimes find myself wondering why Hoes was even acquired if the management will not let him play. Not only did Bo waste a hot hitter off the bench, but Marwin struck out with the bases loaded. Villar also struck out, taking a fastball over the heart of the plate. Bo’s logic on this move got Poreda out of the game, and brought in Frasor who was pitching much stronger. The moral of the story is when a pitcher looks awful, do not prompt the opposing team to remove him. The Astros now trailed 4-2.
In the top half of the seventh Adrian Beltre laced a one out double off of Paul Clemens, who remained in the game. Tony Sipp checked into the game with two outs in the inning to face lefty Mitch Moreland. The lefty righty game continued when Ron Washington countered with pinch hitter Michael Choice, who would go down looking.
Jose Altuve got the bottom of the seventh started off right where the Astros offense left off in the sixth. He laced a sharp single to left field off of Frasor. George Springer was given a 2-0 count when we saw the George Springer Houston has been waiting for. He absolutely unloaded on a fastball with a home run over the Crawford Boxes. The game was now tied 4-4. Neal Cotts checked into the game following the long ball. Fowler kept the rally alive with a bloop single to right. Jason Castro looked like the Castro of 2013 with a nice fluid stroke to left center, placing runners at first and second with nobody out. Dominguez followed with an extremely poor at bat. With two ducks on the pond he was pulling out and struck out swinging. Guzman would be the next to go down swinging, chasing a ball in the dirt. Carter grounded out to end the inning, but it was now a game with two innings left to play.
Tony Sipp remained in the game and looked filthy with his well placed fastball and curve. It amazed me how the Padres did not think Sipp was worthy of the major leagues? I feel like plenty of teams would like a hard throwing lefty for the back end of their bullpen. Sipp was able to mow the Rangers down in order, sending a tied game to the bottom of the eighth.
The Rangers made another pitching change, bringing in the 23 year old Nick Martinez. Nick a starter by trade was brought in out of his element in a tied game late. The pressure did not seem to phase the youngster as he looked like poised veteran mowing down Gonzalez, Villar, and Altuve in order.
Tony Sipp continued his dominance mowing down Choo on a ground out. However that would be his last batter as Chad Qualls checked in. Tony has now thrown 5 2/3 perfect innings since joining the Astros, which has been a huge lift for a struggling bullpen. Qualls looked just as sharp, striking out Andrus with filthy sinkers, and getting Beltre to ground out.
Springer would only be a hero once on this night, as he went down swinging to start off the ninth. Dexter Fowler continued his perfect night with his third hit, a single on the right side. Castro continued the string of good at bats for the Astros as he was able to work the count full and draw a walk. In any late inning rally, you will almost always find a key walk that helped trigger the runs scored. Matt Dominguez came up looking to be a hero and he did just that, blasting a ball off the right field wall for a walk off single. The Astros at long last have beaten the Rangers in a series for the first time in 16 series.
The Astros leave this series with quite possibly their best team effort in a series this year. The first game was tough, the second game was perfection, and the third taught the young kids to dig deep. Springer was the hero tonight bringing his team back, and giving the other hitters a chance to succeed. Yes I said “his” team because it will be his sooner than later. This is what leaders are made of. The Astros win 5-4.
Up next for the Astros are the Chicago White Sox and Jose Abreu on Friday. There should be a ton of smiling faces on this glorious off day tomorrow.