Thanks to my good friend, Charlie from my church choir, I got to watch the second game of the Tom Lawless era (yes, it may be a one month era) in the comfort of some great seats in the club level just to the 3rd base side of home plate. So – what did I observe in the 4-1 win?
Before the Game
At one point it seemed that there were more people on the field than in the stands. There were Astros PR people herding the cats, the Pearland Little Leaguers (who played so well and fell short), a large group from Methodist Hospitals, a group from Charming Charlies and no less than 3 first pitch(ers). A doctor from Methodist, someone from Charming Charlies and most importantly, a 97 year old WW II veteran, who is the father of a season ticket holder all got to toss a ceremonial first (second and third) pitch to new Astro Nick Tropeano, who no doubt none of them knew. But then again they were all thrilled by the honor. Hey, we would all love to be vertical at 97 years old, but the veteran put on a little show by shaking off Tropeano’s “signs” a couple times. Great fun.
In-Game Pluses – Carter, McHugh Altuve and Lawless
Chris Carter was one of the two big stars of the show going 3-for-4 with two dingers and three RBIs. Frankly, both his single and his lineout to the outfield were struck more sharply than either of his home runs. His two home runs were marvels. Carter’s 2nd inning solo shot was a very high moon scraper that carried to the back of the Crawford Boxes. His two-run opposite field homer that sealed the game in the eighth inning was amazing to watch. Off the bat I thought it was a lazy fly ball to right field, but RF Kole Calhoun kept drifting back until all he could do was watch it plop into the second row. Carter now has 35 HRs and 82 RBIs and my immense respect in his improvement and strength.
McHugh was the other star this game, slicing and dicing a tough Angels lineup with 8 K’s and no walks in 7 2/3 IP. He consistently kept his pitch count down and left the game after only 96 pitches. More on that later. He also should not have given up an earned run …. more on that later too.
Even with an announced crowd of 16,949 (as the old joke goes – 10,000 of whom were disguised as empty seats) there was an audible buzz when Jose Altuve came to bat. He did something early in the game that is unusual for him: he struggled to get a solid strike on any of crafty (how else would you describe a 15 game winner with an 87 mph fastball?) Jered Weaver‘s tosses and made fairly meek outs his first three times up. But against reliever Fernando Salas in the key eighth inning he whacked a first pitch double and rode home on Carter’s blast.
New (temporary? interim? lame duck?) manager Tom Lawless made what I thought was a fascinating double switch not involving the pitcher for all you lovers of NL ball. In the seventh inning he sent Alex Presley up to hit for Jonathan Villar (more about him later) and rusty Alex Presley popped out for the second out of the inning. He then sent Presley out to the field for Robbie Grossman and inserted Marwin Gonzalez in the field for Villar, which allowed Gonzalez to lead off the eighth along with getting Villar away from any chance of commiting an error in the field.
In Game Minuses – Villar, Singleton, the Crowd and Lawless
I totally admit I missed Villar starting the game at SS, but he came front and center in the third inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Mike Trout hit a grounder very sharply and right at Villar, who did what he likes to do on easy grounders, let it roll up his arm and allowed the runner to score. You can’t anticipate a double play, so the run was earned, but even with Trout running this would have been an easy way out of the inning.
Jon Singleton struck out his first two times up to sink even deeper below the Mendoza line and then stung a single to right in the seventh. Unfortunately, a few minutes later he fell asleep at 2nd base and was picked off in a call that was blown by the ump but quickly and correctly fixed by the crew in New York.
OK – I have a goofy complaint about the crowd. Isn’t it time to quit booing Albert Pujols every time he comes up for a dinger he hit almost a decade ago? On the other hand I have no problem with cheering and cat-calling him when he got upset over two called third strikes.
It worked out in the end, but I had a bad feeling when Lawless went out to pull the dominant McHugh (after 96 pitches) with two outs and nobody on in the eighth inning and brought in up-and-down Jose Veras to face Trout with a one-run lead. Maybe there is some big stat where Trout can’t hit Veras, but I was worried until Trout skyed out to Marwin G, on the eighth pitch he saw from Veras.
So, it was another solid win for the Astros as they send the Angels packing with two losses I’m sure the contenders did not expect. After a 6-3 home stand things get a lot tougher as the Astros end the season with 15 of 23 games on the road. We shall see how long Tom Lawless upholds his perfect record.