Los Angeles, CA — “Just wait till we get to their bullpen. Just wait till we get to their bullpen.”
That’s what Astros fans used to say.
Certain “pundits” have even claimed the Astros have the best bullpen in baseball. But tonight the Astros bullpen inherited a game tied 2-2 in the sixth inning and proceeded to allow six runs. In the last two games the vaunted Astros bullpen has allowed 8 runs in 6 innings.
But that other bullpen, to which we can’t wait to get, has allowed only one run in its last 7.1 innings.
Actually, the troubles started right away for the Astros, before the bullpen, with Dallas Keuchel giving a vintage 2018 start, allowing two runs in the first inning, the big blow a double by J. D. Martinez after the first two batters singled. It was, and remains, Martinez’ only hit of the series. But after the first, Keuchel pitched scoreless innings through the fifth.
In the first inning this year, Keuchel has a 6.88 ERA.
But thanks to a Marwin Gonzalez RBI single in the first, and an Alex Bregman RBI double in the fifth, Keuchel left the game giving his team a respectable chance to win, with the score tied at 2 each.
Then came Joe Smith. Smith had not pitched in a game since September 29th. In his previous three appearances he allowed 6 runs in 1.2 innings pitched, for a 27.00 ERA. He was not on the ALDS roster. After getting one out, he allowed a monster home run to Steven Pearce. This would turn out to be the winning run.
But in the eighth inning, with the game still very much in doubt, the Astros new closer, Roberto Osuna, came in to keep the game close, and thus this can be called the Meltdown in H-Town.
With two outs and a man on first, Osuna allowed a single and a hit by pitch to load the bases. He then hit pinch hitter Mitch Moreland to make the score 4-2. Oh well. Still a game.
Then Jackie Bradley grand slammed a 1-1 pitch deep into the right field seats, turning a close game with a tense playoff feel into a humiliation.
Osuna had not pitched since September 28th. His ERA with Houston was 1.99 during the season and he had never allowed more than one run in any inning since joining the Astros in early August. However, his career ERA against Boston after tonight is 6.37. His ERA tonight was 67.50.
Not that Osuna, or even Smith really, who took the loss, lost this game alone. In three games the Astros have not gotten more than seven hits in a game. Tonight their consecutive playoff game home run streak was ended, and they were only 1-8 with runners in scoring position, with 8 runners left on base.
Mr. Clutch during the regular season, Yuli Gurriel, was 0-3 tonight with RISP. Although, he had a 3-run homer in game one, it is his only hit in the series, and he has left fourteen batters on base in the three games.
Give some credit to Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched with finesse, a great mix of stuff, and, oh yeah, he can still throw 99 when he’s not buckling your knees with a curve or a cutter.
If not for amazing glove work by Alex Bregman, who almost single-handedly seems to be keeping the Astros competitive in this series, this game could have been much worse. Here’s just one example.
No doubt there will be questions about A. J. Hinch’s handling of the bullpen tonight, especially the use of a rusty Joe Smith in the highest leverage, who had finished the season completely ineffective, and a rusty Osuna, whose problems against Boston are well known. Fair questions I believe, but I also believe his use of the bullpen in the World Series last year was the difference between the Astros winning and losing that series.
Tomorrow another rusty pitcher goes for the Astros, Charlie Morton, who faces the tough Rick Porcello. Or is Morton just well rested? Look on the bright side. A win tomorrow, then Verlander Thursday, and then Gerrit Cole has a chance to close it out in Boston. Could be.
Game time 5:39 PDT.