Chas McCormick and Astros go piecemeal

HOUSTON – The Astros won Friday’s game in dramatic fashion, Chas McCormick winning a baseline-laden blow-by-blow with a 10th inning strike against Arizona reliever Tyler Clippard to send Houston to a 4-3 victory . The HBP was only the third in franchise history for the Astros, and the first since joining Richard Hidalgo on August 8, 1998.

“Pretty crazy,” said McCormick, who (literally) took one for the team when delivering his first career RBI. “I was just happy it hit me.”

McCormick said he was quite surprised when this happened, as his hitting position is far from home plate, and it happened on a 0-2 count.

Ryne Stanek took the win after holding D-backs to one point in the top half of the finish frame. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single to right field, and Aledmys Díaz shot a key goal to load the goals and set the stage for McCormick.

“Boy, it was a weird game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It was a weird game. We had a hit and two points [for a while], and they had a run and a whole bunch of hits. Lucky for us, they left a lot of runners on base and our pitchers threw up a lot of traffic jams. But our guys, they kept fighting.

Arizona had 10 hits to four for Houston, but the D-backs left nine men on base and went up to 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position.

For a while, whether the Astros would get any hits seemed to be an open question, with veteran D-backs left-hander Madison Bumgarner not allowing any hits until two strikeouts in the sixth. But in one fell swoop, Jose Altuve broke Bumgarner’s offer and made his own story.

By carrying Bumgarner’s fastball to the Crawford Boxes, Altuve gave Houston a 2-1 lead with their 28th homerun of the season and 849th all-time hit at Minute Maid Park. The latter mark equals Lance Berkman for the largest number of players in the history of the stadium (since 2000).

“Bumgarner looked really good … but that’s what leaders do, that’s what the best player in the world does,” McCormick said of Altuve. “They can come in big for the team. It was on a 0-2, pitch up tally, but Jose can punch fastballs that are in place. Obviously, that was a huge blow on his part. “

But normally reliable reliever Kendall Graveman was unusually fragile in the eighth, dropping two singles and a walk. The single was an RBI knockout by Josh VanMeter, who tied the game and set the stage for the bizarre extras finish.

The win takes the Astros to 87-60 this season, with five wins in their last six games. They continue to lead the A’s in the American League West by a comfortable seven-game margin with 15 remaining. Their magic number to win the division has been lowered to nine.

“No matter how you [win] that, they all mean the same thing, ”Altuve said of Friday’s odd finish. He said he couldn’t remember seeing another hit-by-stroke in his career.

Patch it together
In what was effectively a box game for the Astros, Brandon Bielak started with several injuries in the starting rotation and pitched 2 2/3 innings scoreless, putting out six. Stanek, Graveman, Blake Taylor, Brooks Raley, Cristian Javier, Phil Maton and Ryan Pressly all recorded multiple relief strikeouts and kept Houston within striking distance.

“It was exceptional,” said Baker, whose team did not have a normal starting pitcher on Friday due to injuries to Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi.

“We were mixing and matching the best we could,” said Baker, who had rested Taylor and Raley – his two left-handed relievers – in recent days to be available for longer runs during the weekend series. “They have a lot of [lefty hitters], and you have to have lefties to fight them.

Proving Baker’s analysis correct, Taylor and Raley combined to pitch two scoreless innings, and they kept the Astros tied despite Bumgarner’s brilliant start.

As for the unusually slow offense, Baker attributed it to a strong performance from a cunning veteran at Bumgarner – and possibly a few lethargic bats after a late night arrival after Thursday’s game at Arlington. The Astros returned to Houston early Friday and had an extremely quick turnaround before facing the D-backs.

“I hope we get a good night’s sleep and come back for a smoke tomorrow,” Baker said.

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