By Will Martin
How ironic that in a week that we celebrate an All-Star break, an anniversary moon landing, and the return to the diamond (to determine who shall be playoff worthy) the focus shall be a different one for that other team in Texas new to the American League way of life.
Nobody gave them a chance to do much of anything with the level of competition west and north and perhaps that is a given.
However, quite a few positives are out there to talk about and look to the future with a sense of contentment and optimism.
For starters there was the announced four year contract extension for second sacker Jose Altuve. Locked in through 2016 with options for 2017 and 2018 if the Astros choose to.
Jason Castro fresh off an All-Star appearance in New York City. Saturday he also had a meet and greet with the media and fans inside a Sony store at the Houston Galleria. I’m told it was quite the turnout for Mr. Castro.
The start of the remainder of the 2013 season found Houston at home against the Seattle Mariners. It has been this writers opinion that July and August would see an A.L. West that would tighten up as the Angels and Mariners start to shine with key starting pitching and sterling defense. If this weekend is to be any indication then happy watching.
44 years ago last weekend we landed on the moon. There was also the dynamic of a full moon in effect. Despite two losses to begin the second half to Seattle the Houston Astros found a way to make history two straight nights. Friday night the M’s would make life tough on Houston DESPITE a rare occurrence on two fronts.
Brandon Barnes became only the eighth Astro in history to hit for the cycle with a 5-for-5 performance in a 10-7 loss. The last hit that qualified for the cycle was also interesting in that in the very inning Barnes completed the cycle Houston would hit for the cycle as a team! How rare is that? Bo Porter had nothing but praise for Barnes.
“That there’s a great feat,” said Astros manager Bo Porter. “It’s obviously something that doesn’t happen in our game every day. To accomplish it in a big league game is pretty impressive and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Bud Norris will be the talk of possible trade rumors until the 31st due to the size of his contract. Run support again was an issue for the hurler.
“I honestly felt pretty good since I hadn’t been out there for a while, so the body felt good,” Norris said. “We had a great game plan and pitches ready with [catcher Jason] Castro. I felt that I was better at times and worse at times but, it wasn’t enough.”
Despite 10 days rest and an ERA under two in ten starts at Minute Maid Park, Seattle made Bud work every pitch and every count to the tune of homers from Kyle Seager and Brad Miller. 120 pitches in Norris was reluctant to want to leave. A fact that did not go unnoticed by skipper Bo Porter.
“I tell you what, this guy did not want to come out of the game,” Porter said of Norris. “He wanted the ball. I though he left a couple of pitches up in the zone, and give those guys credit, because they took full advantage.”
Bud Norris, were you a victim of an inconsistent strike zone?
“Some calls went my way, some calls didn’t, but that’s baseball. It was a little frustrating,” Norris said. “You never want to necessarily leave the game out of your hands. I kept making pitches, trying to hit corners. I thought I hit on a couple and missed too.”
Irony of ironies: With the loss to Seattle the season series for these two teams knotted up at 5-5. Brandon Barnes picked a good night for the eighth cycle in Astros history. Which brought us to Saturday’s game with Erik Bedard and more hard luck under a raging moon.
I can recall an instance in 1990 or 1991 when a Yankee pitcher threw a no-hitter and lost in Chicago 4-0. The name Hawkins comes to mind. Erik Bedard would suffer a similar fate despite 6 and 2 thirds of no hit ball in a 4-2 defeat. The bullpen would come up short in the 7th inning of a 2-0 lead when Michael Saunders would line a three run hit past Justin Maxwell for a 3-2. Seattle’s lone hit in a 4-2 victory.
Erik Bedard reflected on leaving the game with a no-hitter in the 7th.
“It’s tough to take, but I battled for six innings and kept the team in the ballgame,” said Bedard, who didn’t seem fazed by losing with a no-no intact. “It was a grind later on.”
Bo Porter summed it up a little more succinctly.
“I would say probably the strangest game I’ve been involved in from little leagues to the big leagues,” said Houston manager Bo Porter. “Where you give up one hit and punch out 15 guys and end up on the losing side.”
The Mariners were outhit by a seven to one count yet they won the game. Bedard was over 100 pitches entering the 7th inning. Was Erik Bedard on a pitch count?
“The plan was to see if he could have a quick inning,” Porter said. “He was at the end of the rope. When I went out there with a chuckle and left it up to him, he just said, ‘I’m done’ and flipped the ball at me. At that point, I took the ball.”
One stat Astros will not like especially now as the crowds have been in the mid 20.000s of late: Houston has lost eight of nine at home and 12 straight to AL West opponents. With the Angels now starting to awaken with a nice run of victories and C.J. Wilson 6-1 in his last seven starts the Astros will want to guard against being the punching bag for the rest of the A.L. West.
A quick look at the standings in the A.L. West and you see the Angels and Mariners start to creep closer at nine and 11 games back. The Mariners have now won six games in a row and perhaps might make a run like the Halos.
The last 60 days or so are going to be interesting to be sure. Even so one Mariner also chuckled at the fate of baseball Saturday night.
“That was one of the odder wins I’ve ever seen,” Saunders said. “[Bedard] was getting ahead in counts and keeping us off balance. Later in the game, we were able to work our walks and we’ve been doing that great as of late. Getting runners on … we were able to manufacture a couple runs with no hits, which is pretty surprising.”
Of personal note when Jason Castro connected for his 26th double of the season in the first inning Friday night, he set a new single-season franchise record for a catcher. Brad Ausmus had 25 doubles in 1997.
Since his recall from Triple A Oklahoma City on June 25, 1B Brett Wallace is hitting .300 (18×60) with five HR and 16 RBI in 16 games.
Ah, that full moon. Crazy things always seem to revolve around the phenomenon. Mariners being fishermen of the sea took a notion or two from a high tide in Houston this weekend. Take from that what you will. Houston’s homestand will continue with three games against the one team that has owned them in 2013-The Oakland Athletics. Then the month shall finish in Toronto for four and Boston for three.
7/22 vs A’s 7:10 p.m.
7/23 vs A’s 7:10 p.m.
7/24 vs A’s 1:10 p.m.
7/25 @Blue Jays 6:07 p.m.
7/26 @Blue Jays 6:07 p.m.
7/27 @Blue Jays 12:07 p.m.
7/28 @Blue Jays 12:07 p.m.