Houston Astros gets the Boot

Houston Astros getting things together with their pitching game.
Houston Astros getting things together with their pitching game.

By Will Martin

The Texas Two Step Series has come and gone to determine who shall carry the Silver Boot in 2014. A word comes to mind that one would not associate with the vernacular of all things bigger and better in Texas, PITCHING! A whole slew of it was on display for the two days this writer got to watch four outstanding pitching performances in which there were three no decisions along the way.

Friday night, while the Stars were punching a playoff ticket down the road, Yu Darvish and Scott Feldman traded zeroes until both were gone. In the bottom of the 12th inning Texas finally got on the board with a walk off RBI single by Robinson Chirinos after Kevim Kouzmanoff got on base.

It was a 1-0 game that took exactly 4 hours and 11 minutes on April 11th (4:11 on 4/11!) with the Rangers leaving the bases loaded three times and not getting a run across. Remember how that first appearance with the Astros went for Yu Darvish last year? 26 straight batters retired until Marwin Gonzalez broke it up with a clean single. Friday night Yu was equally dominant as he set down the first 15 batters he faced before Matt Dominguez would get a clean hit off Darvish. Dominguez was the only Astro to collect hits as they were completely stymied by a nine strikeout performance by Yu Darvish. Jason Frasor got the win Friday 1-0 while the loss went to Kevin Chapman who pitched two and two thirds innings for the loss.

Now about Scott Feldman. How about going out and starting LESS than two days after the news that his father has passed away? Seven innings of a 2 hit no run ball while lowering his ERA in 3 starts to 0.44! Three walks and 4 strikeouts, notwithstanding he was once pulled in the 7th. Bo Porter gave him a bear hug for his grit under trying times. Feldman is now on bereavement leave with Paul Clemens getting the call up from Oklahoma City taking his spot until Scott returns.

“It was a tough couple of days,” Feldman said. “It was pretty sad my father passing away, but I think without a doubt he would have wanted me to go out and pitch. I just tried to keep my emotions under control and hopefully he was watching.”

Despite the walk-off hit by Chirinos for the win Friday Bo Porter was very upbeat, and proud of his team afterwards.We also spoke with Porter before the game. Here’s our visit with Bo.

“That there is a really good baseball game, from both ballclubs,” Porter said. “There was a lot of adversity, a lot of break points. To battle the way we battled, I’m extremely proud of those guys. It’s unfortunate that one team had to come up on the short end, but both teams are definitely winners.”

A bit more on Feldman. Only one other Astro starter has made his first three starts and allowed 1 run or less. His name was Roger Clemens and he did so seven times in 2004 and 2005.

“It was an unbelievable performance by Scott dealing with the family issues he’s had to deal with,” Porter said. “To come out and pitch the way he pitched speaks to the quality pitcher he is, speaks to the professionalism and he left it all out there and gave us a tremendous effort. I’m proud of him.”

Saturday night, while the Mavericks punched a playoff ticket down the road, there was more high jinks in Arlington as the outcome would occur in extras. A 5 run 4th inning highlighted by a Robbie Grossman three run bomb ended a 1 for 27 skid. It would not suffice as the 2013 bugaboo of losing a lead would return when Michael Choice went deep in the 9th on reliever Kevin Chapman for a 5-5 tie. Jarred Cosart would earn a no decision despite seven innings thrown, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits with eight strikeouts, and retiring 10 of 11 batters at one point.

“For me, you’ve got to keep this team off balance,” Cosart said. “You can’t just throw a get-me-over curveball. Early in the game they were popping out of my hand a little bit and staying in the zone and they saw it. They put some good swings on it, and it’s a credit to them. I had to bear down after that and I was able to.”

“I was able to gather myself, and after the last outing Bo told me, ‘You know, it’s OK to give up runs. Every once in a while it’s going to happen,'” he said. “It’s part of pitching, especially in the big leagues. You have to limit the damage. After that, the curveball came along and I was commanding the fastball well and was able to keep them off the fastball with the curveball and I got some big outs.”

Thankfully in the 10th inning Jason Castro plunked a triple and was sacrificed home for a 6-5 victory for the Astros and for Kevin Chapman. Credit Anthony Bass with the save. The victory gave Houston a chance to win a series against the Rangers for the first time since June 2008 in Houston and July 2006 in Arlington.

A 12 game losing skid to the Rangers that stopped on Sunday looked promising. Lefty versus lefty with Martin Perez (1-0 4.50) and Brett Oberholzer (0-2 4.91) started under what looked like a day that would be delayed by heavy rains that soaked Tarrant County. This writer’s favorite kind of game – the pitchers duel – would once again come to be in a game that took all of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Perez and Oberholzer matched zeroes until the bottom of the 7th when Donnie Murphy would sacrifice Josh Wilson home after being moved to third on a single by Shin Soo Choo. It was a battle of five hitters as Brett Oberholzer allowed 1 run on 5 hits, seven strikeouts and no walks throwing 89 pitches for 57 as strikes. He also became the 4th straight Astros starter  to throw at least seven innings.

Dallas Keuchel threw seven innings and allowed one earned run Thursday in Toronto, Scott Feldman threw seven scoreless innings in Friday’s series opener in Arlington, and Jarred Cosart allowed three earned runs in seven innings Saturday. On the other side of the aisle, as the sun began to shine and skies cleared on a 69 degree day, Martin Perez kept the ball down. He induced 4 double play balls, struck out 2 and walked three in getting his second win of the season. Perez threw 107 pitches 65 for strikes.

Despite falling to 5-8 the Houston Astros are off to their best start since 2007. Quite frankly the starting pitching impressed me so much since the start of last July 12th. Once Houston figures out how to work everything out then the rest of the league better get ready. This team can and will be the story of the A.L. West.

While Ron Washington was clearly impressed with the way his pitching has been the last week even Wash had good things to say about the way Houston starters have been playing. Here’s Ron Washington.

5-8 so far in April. Last year under Bo in his rookie season the Astros began April by going 7-19. At 5-8 with two 1 run losses in a 1-0 fashion it’s clear to see the pitching is going to be just fine. Now to find a way to get the bats on fire after a 2-0 start and losing two of three north of the border. Perhaps mix up the lineup where you platoon Fowler and Altuve for the leadoff spot and then maybe bat Hoes before Carter? Just an idea.

Having seen so many shutout innings this weekend I am now off to go see the doctor to make sure my cholesterol count is still okay. To quote my friend Mark Elfenbein there was some ‘delicious’ starting pitching this past weekend for a misleading 2-4 week.

Upcoming Schedule
4/15  vs Royals        7:10 p.m.
4/16  vs Royals        7:10 p.m.
4/17  vs Royals        7:10 p.m.
4/18  @A’s                9:05 p.m.
4/19  @A’s                3:05 p.m.
4/20  @A’s                3:05 p.m.