The Astros entered Monday’s contest winners of their last five, and looked like a team that really believed in themselves. Brad Peacock came in trying to claim his place permanently in the Astros rotation with his mound opponent being Ubaldo Jimenez.
Both pitchers came out of the gate featuring similar 92 mile per hour fastballs. That was until the bottom of the second when the Astros created havoc on the base paths. Jason Castro lead off the inning with a walk, followed by a sharp single through the middle by Matt Dominguez. With two runners on and one out, Alex Presley drew a walk. Following the walk Jimenez continued to show his wild side, unleashing a wild pitch. Jason Castro rushed home on a bang bang play at the plate. Beating Jimenez’s tag by an eyelash Castro slid in feet first for run number one. This play would be reviewed, and stood as called in favor of the Astros. The Astros would fail to plate another run, and lead 1-0 after two innings.
Brad Peacock induced several fly balls with his riding fastball, allowing hitters to square the ball up but not find a safe landing zone. Peacock’s velocity and ability to overpower in the early innings is never in question. The question is how does he hold up versus a deep American League lineup as the game progresses?
Jose Altuve continued the offensive brigade he has punished American League pitchers with, by leading off the third with a double in the left field corner. Nothing would amount in the scoring category as Jose was stranded right there. Former Astro Steve Pearce lead off a troublesome top of the fourth with a double. The red hot Nelson Cruz plated Pearce with a single to the right side, despite an excellent throw into the plate by George Springer. That is all the Orioles would score, tying the game up after three and a half.
The Orioles tried to continue to hand runs to the Astros in the fourth. Manny Machado was charged with a throwing error allowing Chris Carter to reach first, and Alex Presley drew a four pitch walk. The Astros would strand gift wrapped runs, letting Jimenez be effectively wild to this point. A point of concern was raised when Jonathan Villar struck out to end the inning. Villar is about as lost as I have seen him, and with the team winning this has been brushed under the rug. With Villar already losing playing time to Marwin Gonzalez he will need to it out at the plate sooner than later for his sake.
The hitting machine Altuve lead off the bottom of the fifth with a line drive infield single. The ball deflected of of Jimenez’s glove. Jose would go on to swipe his 18th bag of the year. Following a Springer, strikeout Jimenez hit Dexter Fowler with a pitch. Another frustrating inning would haunt the Astros as they stranded both Altuve and Fowler. Through five the Astros had stranded a total of five runners.
Peacock would exit the game after six very strong innings in which he allowed one run on six hits. Josh Fields took over in the seventh and promptly gave up a sharp liner to right off the bat of Machado. Springer made a fabulous catch right by the foul line, making it his third athletic catch of the evening. While George had struggled with the bat to this point, he made up with it greatly on defense. Fields would surrender a single, but looked sharp in his inning of work.
Preston Guilmet checked in for the Orioles in the seventh, Jimenez made it through a 112 pitch, six inning outing, by making the right pitches when he absolutely needed to. Guilmet was greeted with a one out single by Altuve, marking his third hit of the evening. Altuve went on to steal his second base of the evening and 19th on the season. The legend of George Springer continued with yet another clutch bomb. Springer laced a three ball, two strike home run to the Laundry’s Crawford Boxes to give the Astros a 3-1 advantage. Not only does George hit home runs, but he hits them in the most important situations.
Bo Porter decided to bring Josh Fields out for the eighth frame and retired the Orioles one, two, and three. The confidence of Fields and his fastball looked strong on this night, attacking the strike zone often. It was another smooth inning for Fields.
Ryan Webb checked in for the eighth inning. He promptly walked Jesus Guzman on a three and two count. The Astros would fail to produce any insurance runs. Chad Qualls did not need any more runs however as he retired the side in order, concluding the game with a Machado ground out.
This win marked the Astros sixth win in a row, and baseball fever is heating up in Houston. In my time covering the team this year, the energy at Minute Maid Park was as strong as I have seen it. George Springer is building a legendary status in this city, and I think Houston could be ready to show it is indeed a baseball city. After the game George credited his late inning success to Altuve constantly being on the bases and creating havoc. Bo also chimed in by discussing how Springer stacks up with young superstars that hit the scene running like Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera, and Hanley Ramirez. Bo used the word, “special” many times and I think we would all agree.