Out of 15 hits on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, the softest one was enough for the Diamondbacks to take down the Astros, 4-2.
A southpaw pitchers' duel turned late-innings chess match sustained a 2-2 tie into the eighth.
With two outs and a runner on second base, Hector Rondon tried to muscle through his second inning of work. His stuff was overpowering, but his performance was shaky against the bottom of Arizona's lineup.
He fired a 97 mph fastball far inside to jam pinch hitter Jon Jay. The pitch splintered Jay's bat, but Jay's effort outmuscled Rondon's.© Elizabeth Conley/Staff Photographer Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (4) can't get to a hit by Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock (11) in the eighth inning. Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Jon Jay (9) scored, but Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock (11) was caught at second. The Houston Astros host the Arizona Diamondbacks at Minute Maid Park on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 in Houston.
The ball dunked into shallow right, where no Astros fielder could make a play. Yuli Gurriel watched the ball die in the grass and threw up his hands. Josh Reddick raced in, but it was too late: Jay reached third base with a go-ahead RBI-triple.
The next batter, A.J. Pollock, foiled Rondon with another weakly struck hit. Center fielder George Springer dove and could not snare the shallow fly ball. Springer sprang up in time to throw out Pollock at second base, but Jay had trotted across home plate for the final run.
The Astros' bullpen has allowed eight earned runs in September. Rondon (2-4, 2.43 ERA) is responsible for three of them.
Lefthanded starters Dallas Keuchel and Robbie Ray weathered an early exchange of runs.
In the first inning, Keuchel allowed a walk to Eduardo Escobar, ground rule double to Paul Goldschmidt and a two-RBI single to lefty David Peralta. The Astros answered with the bases loaded. Gurriel drove in one run with a single and Carlos Correa added another when he grounded into a double play. Correa tied the game, but ultimately he killed a rally.
Ray did not give up another hit to the Astros – who entered with baseball's highest batting average against lefthanders – through 5 1/3 innings. His mid-90s fastball juxtaposed a flummoxing breaking ball. He threw 24 sliders. The Astros swung and missed nine of them. George Springer missed one so badly that after he slammed his bat and helmet to the dirt he turned to the home plate umpire to clarify that he was frustrated only with himself.
Keuchel had one 1-2-3 inning. He tiptoed around trouble and stranded seven runners in six innings. With a runner on first, Keuchel finished his outing with his fifth strikeout. He got Jeff Mathis flailing at a changeup that veered out of the hitter's reach.
The pitcher's duel sped up the game until it slowed to a chess match.
Ray exited the sixth with Jose Altuve on first base. Diamondbacks manager Torey Luvolla brought in righthander Archie Bradley, who induced fly outs from Gurriel and Correa.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch needed three relievers to clear the seventh. Like déjà vu, Joe Smith allowed a walk to Escobar and double to Goldschmidt, which put runners in scoring position for Peralta.
Then lefty Tony Sipp came in from the bullpen to do what Keuchel could not. Sipp struck out Peralta with a slider.
Hinch called upon Hector Rondon to finish cleaning up Smith's mess. Luvolla countered with Daniel Descalso. Rondon blew him away with four high fastballs.
To lead off the bottom of the seventh, Tyler White lined a ball to left-center and slid headfirst into second base. He pushed himself off the dirt to hear roaring cheers and spot Springer leaning over the dugout railing. Springer pantomimed milking a cow – the team's signature big hit celebration – and White replied with the same gesture.
The Astros rejoiced, but they could not capitalize. Including White, six Astros reached base in the final three innings. None scored.
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