Over the last six or seven games, a couple of things have worked for the Houston Astros, but most everything else has been severely lacking.
Last night’s game against the Seattle Mariners tied up a three-game series with them and was also the culmination of 20 straight games for the Astros. The stretch has seen many talking points arise, some pleasantly surprising, some totally bemusing.
Starting pitching has seen a huge turnaround from the beginning of the season, where pitchers like Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Harrell could barely make it out of the first inning and were often yanked after four innings with pitch counts already near 100 and a shameful score-line the predictable companion. June has seen a resurgence in the Astros’ starters, mostly flying under Bud Norris’ wing. Overall ERA ranks in the top five in the majors for the Houston starting crew. The bullpen is still an issue, of course, as any time a reliever races to the mound the fans have little confidence.
Paul Clemens stepped in to close the game last night after Hector Ambriz made his trademark poor attempt to shut down batters late in the proceedings. Both were trying to hold down the fantastic start produced by Jordan Lyles, who went seven scoreless, nine strikeout innings and seems to possess the sort of steely reserve and composure that can be so lacking in the Astros dugout.
Excellent pitching could only do so much as the Astros entered the ninth inning trailing 1-0. The Mariners’ closers then proceeded to do their best Houston-bullpen impression and coughed up six runs in a half-hour-long top of the ninth to the willing Astros. They gladly trotted around the bases and, without the help of any home runs, posted up scores on the big board again and again. Clemens, who should be a starter soon, came back in to close the game in 1-2-3 fashion in the bottom of the ninth and the players seemed as surprised as anyone.
The Astros left the stadium and headed for the airport for the long flight back to Houston, finally able to ride a jet stream knowing that they had at least been able to end the journey on a very high note. They hadn’t scored a run in 17 innings before the end of last night’s game, but breaking that streak could not have come at a better time.