Villone In For Miller

added 8/5/2001 by Steve Cutchen

The Pregame; Astros Family Day

Our seats today were in row 4 of the upper deck, directly behind the plate. Very nice. And a nice spot to watch Astros Family Day. Many of the Astros players were on the field with their wives and kids.

As each family was introduced, they took their place along the first base line.

Even the front office staff was introduced. Which was a nice touch. I really got the feeling of the Astros as family.

After the introductions, the whole group huddled for a group picture. Then it was time for the kids to get a chance to whack the ball!

They used plastic balls and those big, fat Playschool plastic bats. Moises Alou pitched to any kid that strode to the plate... and really enjoyed himself. Daryle Ward patrolled out near second, where he picked off a young Biggio as he tried to slide into second.

My favorite kids were the young Vizcainos. Not only did they hit well, but the oldest even knew how to round first base properly by swinging into foul territory slightly.

After one hit, he was rounding all the bases. But out near second was young Jackson. With a ball. The attempted tag was hilarious. Vizcaino avoided the play, only to be tackled by a lurking Jackson when he was about halfway between third and home. A perfect tackle into foul territory, and the tag was applied forthwith.

The Game

Ryan and I were really looking forward to seeing Wade Miller pitch today. The last time we saw Wade was April 23, when he beat the Cardinals on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

First Inning - Miller Out, Villone In...

As you probably already know by now, Wade's first pitch to Peter Bergeron was bunted to Bagwell. Wade covered, took the toss and then went down in a heap after colliding with Bergeron at the bag. In the melee, his hand was stepped on and he suffered a gash on the little finger of his pitching hand. There was no tendon or ligament damage, but the cut required four stitches to close.

After the game, Wade said he was at fault. He thought he was farther in front of Bergeron, and looked to make a tag of the runner rather than the base. He was surprised Peter was so close, and he ended up taking a bad path to the base as a result. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said he is hoping to miss only one start.

Montreal Expos' Peter Bergeron steps on the hand of Houston Astros pitcher Wade Miller as the two collide at first base after Bergeron's infield grounder during the first inning Sunday, August 5, 2001 in Houston. Miller left the game after the injury. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Houston Astros pitcher Ron Villone delivers a pitch against the Montreal Expos during the fourth inning Sunday, August 5, 2001 in Houston. Villone entered the game in the first inning after starting pitcher Wade Miller was injured and had to leave the game. The Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Expos with a 4-1 win Sunday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ron Villone came in to replace Wade. How important did Reynolds' and Oswalt's complete games look now? With a fully rested bullpen, if Ron could go 4 innings or so, we'd still have a good chance of getting through this game in good shape.

Well Ron did better than that. He started five of the first six batters off with strikes. Four of the six started off 0-2. And with the exception of a walk to Stevens, he set down seven of the first eight he faced

I've got to bring up another point here. The home plate umpire was Hollowell. This is the first time I've seen him behind the plate. And I've NEVER seen an uglier called strike mechanic. He would stand up on his left leg, pull both fists into his chest, elbows out and then slam down with his elbows. For all the world, he looked like he was doing The Chicken. "Cluck One!" "Cluck Two!"

In the bottom of the first, Lugo led off with what I thought was an error on Expo shortstop Cabrera. It seemed like it might be a significant decision on the part of the scorer, too, when the Astros did not get another hit until the 4th inning...

Second Inning - Berkman Bopped By Bobby

In the bottom of the second inning, Lance Berkman was hit by the first pitch from Bobby Munoz. I believe it was intentional; meant as retribution for Roy Oswalt's plunk of Jose Vidro yesterday. I've covered this event and the whole issue of beanballs in a Knuckleball Column and I'll leave you with that link to read the details.

Vladimir Guerrero showed why he is considered to have one of the best right field arms when he doubled Berkman off first on a DEEP fly ball by Hidalgo. It wasn't even close.

Third Inning - Astros Score Without A Hit

Villone's streak of retired batters ended with two outs in the third when Bergeron returned to the plate for the first time after stepping on Miller. He deposited a 2-1 pitch into the Astros bullpen for a 1-0 Montreal lead.

As mentioned in my Knuckleball Column, Ausmus was hit by Munoz in the third. A sacrifice by Villone and an error by a collection of Expos circling under a Lugo popup, and Brad was plated. The error was given to Guerrero.

Fourth Inning - Berkman Gives Astros The Lead; Alou Tooled

Lance doubled with one out and scored on Moises Alou's first pitch single to give the Astros the lead in the fourth inning. With four hits, we should have had more scoring, but Alou was picked off rounding first by Expo first baseman Stevens after he took the cutoff throw. Alou was justifiably ticked off, though. Stevens ran at him and he ducked the first tag attempt. As Stevens went by, he grabbed Alou's jersey and then reached over to tag him on the second attempt. First base umpire Craft got caught flatfooted on the play, calling the out on the first miss on anticipation rather than pausing and reacting to the play as he is taught. Then he did NOT call the obstruction on the grab of the jersey. Alou should have been placed on second. Instead he was declared out.

Sixth Inning on - Well Done Villone

Villone pitched five innings. He was looking a bit worn by the 5th, throwing 20 pitches and having Bergeron foul off two with two strikes before grounding to Bagwell. Also, the Expos were coming up with the 2-spot in the order in the 6th. So it made sense to think that Villone might be done after five.

The decision was made easy when Villone's spot in the order came up in the 6th. Home runs by Alou and Castilla gave the Astros their final margin, and stretched the batting order down to the nine hole. It looked as if we'd score even more, but Guerrero's arm was on display again, cutting down Ausmus at the plate as he tried to score from second on a single by Vizcaino.

Nelson Cruz began a parade of four Houston relievers who closed out the game for the Astros. Dotel pitched the seventh. Jackson pitched the eighth. And Billy the Kid pitched the ninth. Only Jackson looked shaky, taking 10 pitches before striking our Guerrero.

An new thing to me and Ryan was that ALL of the Astros relievers have cool videos now. I love the exploding fireball thing they do for Wagner. And Dotel's "DANGER" video is my second favorite. Look for them on your next visit to a game at Enron.

Final Thoughts

It sure was nice to have a Ron Villone in the bullpen to go to. When Miller was hurt, I flashed back to the early year bullpen and realized we might have had to make due with Lima. Or Powell. Can you imagine? Nope, I can't either.

Well, we took care of business with the Expos. A sweep, when it was really needed. Now it is off to battle better teams. And we may be seeing young Master Redding up with the Big Club again for a spot start with the injury to Miller. Let's see what we're made of.

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