By Will Martin
Sunday afternoon would mark 20 percent of the current Houston Astros season upon completion of their current and longest homestand for the season.
Go back to the stretch of games with the Red Sox and Yankees prior and you now can surmise 2013 will be like anticipating a car crash.
You know it’s coming yet you still are going to watch.
On the bright side the lone win of the week came on April 29th when Lucas Harrell got run support and a 4 for 5 performance from Carlos Corporan in a 9-1 win over the Yankees.
In the rubber game with the Yankees, Houston trailed 4-0, came back to tie 4-4 before New York scratched out a run late for a 5-4 win and a Mariano Rivera save.
Last year’s A.L. Champs the Detroit Tigers rolled into town for a four game set. On the heels of a 1-6 road trip (swept four straight in Boston, losing two of three in New York) the stats looked to be in the Astros favor. A 9-6 career record against the Motor City and a 5-1 career record coming into play this weekend.
Thursday night May 2nd some records were set as Detroit would prevail 7-3 in 14 innings. Both the Astros and Tigers pitchers rang up 18 whiffs apiece. Jordan Lyles made his first start of the season while Jason Castro went yard to provide an early 2-0 lead. That lead was short lived. Carlos Pena hit a solo blast that gave Detroit a 3-2 lead. Jordan was taken out after the 5th inning. Bo Porter explained.
“He came here, did a great job, and I wanted to get him out of the game in the positive,” said Porter of his move to lift Lyles. “I wasn’t going to put him in a position to get a no-decision or a loss. So what’s the use of putting him out there for another inning.”
“He pitched well enough to win the game. He attacked with his fastball and that’s a credit to him.”
Lyles said he could have gone longer.
“I had no idea I was coming out after the fifth,” Lyles said. “Bo met me at the steps and said I was done. I felt good enough to go another inning or two or three.”
How did Jordan feel about this decision?
“I thought I did a pretty good job of staying with that and keep attacking,” he said. “I left some balls up, but it was a pretty decent outing overall. Hopefully I’ll get some more innings next time.”
A costly error by Rick Ankiel-bobbling a Victor Martinez single after Prince Fielder was plunked with two outs in the 8th-led to a 3-all tie. It would stay that way until the 14th inning.
It isn’t often you see two ball clubs provide over six innings of scoreless relief. A game that was 4 hours and 50 minutes long saw Dallas Keuchel take the loss. Dallas and Jordan just received the call-up from Oklahoma City.
“I felt good,” Keuchel said. “You go so far and come up short, it’s pretty disheartening and pretty disappointing. Hats off to their lineup for just keep getting after me.
“I want to be the guy that finishes the game in that situation. I told [pitching coach Doug Brocail] that I’m going however many innings he needed me to go. I was willing to go 10 innings.”
He went 4 1/3 innings and was tagged with the loss, giving up seven hits and four runs. He walked four, two intentionally, and struck out four.
Detroit pitching set an AL record on Wednesday with its sixth consecutive game of at least 10 strikeouts. Houston hitters came into Thursday’s series opener averaging just-under 10 strikeouts per game, 276 total, the most in the Major Leagues.
Friday night was even more troublesome. Bud Norris with a solid 7 innings one day after a depleted bullpen needed a break. Allowing two runs on five hits the Astros clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead into the 9th inning. Jose Veras was called upon to protect a one run lead. Alex Avila had other ideas.
Mired in an 0 for 8 slump Alex Avila socked a two run blast to give the Tigers a 4-3 victory and a feeling of heartbreak for the 16,719 at Minute Maid Park.
Both Bo Porter and Jim Leyland gave credit where credit was due.
“Bud Norris did what a No. 1 starter does,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “When his team is light in the bullpen after a 14-inning game, he goes seven innings and held one of the best offensive teams in our league to two runs.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland recognized the efforts of not only Norris, but of the entire Astros staff, which for the most part has held down Detroit’s potent offense in two games.
“Norris pitched really good,” Leyland said. I was impressed. We don’t see these guys much. They throw good pitchers at you.”
Bud Norris sees the glass as half full.
“I went out and executed some pitches and the guys played defense behind me and had a great ballgame,” Norris said. “We came out on the short end of the stick, but these guys fought for nine innings. It was a tough one to lose, for sure, but I know we played hard and that’s a positive for us.”
With 80 percent of the season ahead the Astros vow to learn from these defeats. Now at 8-24 through May 5th. 4-12 at home and 4-12 on the road.
“Losing is tough, any time,” Porter said. “But from last night’s game to tonight’s game, you take away that this is the defending American League champion, and one play here, one play there, and both of these nights we’re going home victorious. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
“We’ve played good baseball. We’ve had some misfortune along the way. But the tide is going to change and a lot of these plays are going to go our way and we’re going to hit our stretch of winning these type of ballgames.”
The weekend is one Houston would like to forget about. Lucas Harrell lit up for 8 runs while Miguel Cabrera blasted two homers while collecting 6 RBI’s in a 17-2 Tiger rout. This followed by 9-0 loss on Cinco De Mayo as Justin Verlander had a no-hitter for 6 and 1/3 innings before Carlos Pena lined a clean single to right. A combined four-hitter and 4 game sweep by the defending A.L. Champions.
Losers of 10 out of 11 will lead you to have a closed door meeting after being outscored 37-8 in a four game homestand. Wesley Wright to provide a team summation.
“I think it’s a situation where we’re at a point in the season where we played some of our worst baseball in the last week or so and guys are all tired of it,” veteran relief pitcher Wesley Wright said. “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to change it, and it starts man to man on the roster and trying to improve and come out with a different type of fight. We can’t expect people to feel sorry for us or take it an easy on the Astros ’cause we’re struggling. They’re going to look to get better off of us, and we have to start it somewhere, and hopefully it starts Tuesday.”
If some of you are ready to compare the 2013 Astros to the 2003 Tigers (43-119) and 1962 Mets (40-120) know that after 32 games the Tigers were 7-25 while Casey Stengels clowns were 12-20. Still too early to make a determination on what kind of season lies ahead.
Next up for the Astros: A team also in struggle, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three followed by a return visit by the 1st place Texas Rangers (20-11) fresh off a sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
More of a statistical breakdown on Houston’s movers and shakers next week. Now to try to improve on an 0-4 home stand.