"This Could Be The Ballgame Pitch..."
added 6/17/2001 by Steve Cutchen
I was worried about this game simply because Elarton was pitching against the Rangers. The OPS for the top six of the Ranger's order (Catalanotto, I-Rod, A-Rod, Palmeiro, Sierra and Kapler) are 875, 855, 1031, 908, 994 and 897. That is a powerful brace of hitters going against a pitcher that has not had but a couple of good outings all year.
First Inning - Elarton Escapes... Biggio Erupts
The Rangers had a chance to blow the game open early. Elarton was throwing nothing but fastballs. And even in the low 90s, these are not fooling the Rangers hitters. Catalanotto flied out deep to left, but missed the Crawford boxes. Then the Rod Brothers, I- and A-, singled, followed by a walk to Palmeiro. Bases loaded. One out. Sierra and Kapler coming up... Sierra crushed the ball to center, easily scoring Pudge, and allowing ARod to move up... but Kapler, hitting the only weak ball all inning, grounded out on a 2-2 pitch to Bagwell. One run on two hits and a walk.
Biggio tied the game on Oliver's first pitch, dumping a fly ball into the Crawford boxes. So, as bad as Scott looked, we were actually even. Lugo got to a full count before flying out to left, so maybe he's trying to be more selective at the plate. Berkman walked. But with no other noise, we were done quickly in the first. A song that would be sung 9 times today.
Second Inning - Another Ruthian Enemy Pitcher
What is it about opposing pitchers?
The Rangers come into the second inning with the bottom third of their order. F5 Lamb is in his first MLB game as a replacement for the injured Caminiti. Ledee has looked awful in very limited action this year. And then we get an AL pitcher... Well guess what. Oliver singled. Nothing came of it since Catalanotto grounded out to Castilla. But I'm getting tired of seeing opposing pitchers pad their batting stats against the Astros.
We, on the other hand, go three up three down, which means we're leading off the third with Elarton. Damn.
Third Inning - Elarton's Luck Continues, Biggio! Two for Two!
So in the Ranger's third, we're back to their Murder's Row. I-Rod crushed the ball down the third base line, but Vinny snagged it for a 5-3 put out. A-Rod ALSO crushed the ball, but Lugo made a sparkling play up the middle... snag... spin... fire! Two outs! Elarton is still getting rocked, but the defense is coming through behind him. Palmeiro grounds out to Biggio, and on the scorecard it looks like infield practice... 5-3, 6-3, 4-3. But again, Elarton is fortunate. This didn't look like a three up three down inning when you look at how hard the ball was hit.
Biggio finally took a pitch from Oliver in the bottom of the third. A called strike. Then the deposited the next pitch right where the first one he saw today went... into the Crawford boxes. Both of these home runs were probably outs in many other parks. But at this point, Elarton is getting rocked, we've had only two hits, but with both of them being Biggio homers, we're ahead 2-1.
Fourth Inning - Is Elarton Finding the Range?
Scott finally had a good inning against Rangers power in the fourth. After Sierra fouled off a 1-2 pitch, Elarton had him waving at the next one. And then, with one out and the bottom three of the order coming up after Kapler, I'm thinking pitching around Kapler might not be a bad idea. It seems Scott agrees, as he falls behind 2-0. But Kapler can't accept the gifts, and pokes the 2-0 pitch to Biggio for the easy 4-3 ground ball. Then rookie Lamb accommodates by grounding out to Castilla. Lamb got to 2-2 and then fouled off two more pitches before finally grounding out to Vinny... He battled well. The good news? Elarton will get to start the fifth inning with the 8-9 batters. Maybe this 2-1 lead can hold up a while?
In the meantime, our offense continues to be dead. Hidalgo, Castilla and Ausmus go 1-2-3. Vinny actually had a nice poke, sending the first pitch about 390 feet to center. But it is over 400 feet to the wall out there... Warning track power.
And Ausmus' ground out to short ensures that we will start out the fifth inning with the pitcher's spot for the second time in the game.
Fifth Inning - "This Could Be the Ballgame Pitch..."
Elarton gets the 8-9 spots leading off in the fifth. But Ledee hits a 1-2 pitch for a single. And with a 1 run game and the pitcher up, the Rangers let Oliver bunt. He gets the sac down on the first pitch, so the tying run is in scoring position with one out. Catalanotto singled to right, but Alou made a great throw to hold Ledee at third. So with a one run lead, runners are at first and third with one out.
The next two at-bats were the tale of the game.
Pudge has the tying run at second and really battles Elarton. Scott gets up 1-2. But Pudge fouls off the next two pitches before finally getting one he could handle, and he ripped a single, scoring Ledee. So now with runners on 1st and 2nd and the game tied, A-Rod comes up with one out.
Palmeiro strikes out and Sierra grounds out to Bagwell, but the damage is done. Alex Rodriguez' homer has gut punched the air out of the Astros fans.
Bagwell got a chance to duplicate A-Rod's feat in the bottom of the fifth. Lugo singled after two outs. Bagwell really worked Oliver. Or vice versa. He got down 1-2 and then fouled off the next two pitches. He took a ball. Another ball, 3-2... Another foul... Then ...a swing and a miss.
The 3-2 to A-Rod and he homers to left.
The 3-2 to Bagwell and he strikes out.
This is the metaphor for the Astros this year.
The rest of the game went by with very little of note. A few random observations:
Elarton started this year being crowned as the Ace of the Staff. This despite the fact that he had a terrible spring. And with Bottenfield and Lima's problems, casual fans have overlooked the fact that he has been just as bad. Well, now his travails are obvious. He is only the number 5 guy in this rotation. Reynolds, Oswalt, McKnight and Miller are all pitching better.
This wouldn't be so bad if the offense was clicking like it was for him last year. But it is not. We are playing station to station because we do not have guys that can string together an inning.
Dierker said the other day, "Well, we are a .500 club..."
I'm beginning to agree.