Astros squander two leads in stunning loss to Angels

July 16th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The Astros have suffered very few losses, if any, in recent years that have been as tough for them to swallow as what unfolded during a disastrous Saturday night at Angel Stadium.

Blowing a six-run lead is one thing, but blowing a six-run lead with your ace pitcher on the mound in the seventh inning and then squandering a three-run lead in the ninth with a closer who hasn’t been touched in a month only underscored the shock value of the night.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Astros watched All-Star lefty leave the game with a calf cramp in the seventh and Gold Glove shortstop Jeremy Peña depart in the 10th with a right hamstring cramp. Peña’s replacement, rookie Grae Kessinger, made a throwing error in the bottom of the 10th that allowed the winning run to score.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Astros center fielder , who went 3-for-3 with four runs scored, two walks and a go-ahead homer in the eighth. “I just hope Framber’s OK at this point. I hope Peña’s OK. We really can't afford any more injuries. It’s a tough loss, but the Angels are a good team. They never quit tonight and they deserved to win that one.”

The Angels had runners at first and second base with one out in the 10th for Taylor Ward, who hit a grounder to second baseman Mauricio Dubón. He flipped the ball to second for the first out, but Kessinger’s relay throw was too far up the line for first baseman José Abreu to catch it. Trey Cabbage scored the winning run to snap the Angels’ six-game losing streak.

“I was ready, I was loose, I felt relaxed,” Kessinger said. “I just didn’t make the throw.”

Including the playoffs, the Astros had won 104 consecutive games when scoring at least 12 runs. It was their first defeat since scoring a dozen runs since a 14-12 loss to the Cubs on Aug. 20, 2002.

“Shocking,” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We lost a game with a big lead and with our best staff on the mound. You’ve got to give credit to them. They battled and put good pitches in play, especially with two strikes. Part of the game.”

The Astros built a 9-3 lead behind Valdez -- who entered the game as the Major Leagues' ERA leader -- after scoring five times in the seventh, capped by a three-run homer by Abreu. Valdez, who struck out a career-high-tying 13 batters, was pulled after giving up a two-run homer to Zach Neto in the seventh and throwing two pitches to Shohei Ohtani.

“I felt a little pull there when I threw that pitch to Ohtani, my left leg,” Valdez said. “I don't know if it was exhaustion or dehydration or what, but I felt like I pulled something there, something tight."

Valdez registered a season-high 23 swings-and-misses, including eight on an effective changeup he threw 26 times from among his 103 pitches.

“Actually, I didn't notice I had 13 strikeouts until I came out of the game,” he said. “I was so locked in, so focused, and trying to get the job done.”

The Angels scored four more runs in the seventh after Valdez left, capped by a game-tying, three-run homer by Mike Moustakas off Bryan Abreu. McCormick’s homer in the eighth put the Astros ahead, 11-9, and they carried a 12-9 lead to the ninth, before the Angels rallied for three runs and five hits off closer Ryan Pressly, who hadn’t allowed a hit in his previous 11 outings.

Houston’s bullpen gave up a season-high eight runs (six earned).

“They started hitting us all over the ballpark,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We came back and got a couple of runs and you hate to end the game like that with a young man [Kessinger] who’s a fine young man. That's going to happen at some point in time in your career. That was just a bad, bad loss for us.”

After the game, Dubón spent time talking to Kessinger at this locker, and bench coach Joe Espada had his arm around his shoulders a few minutes later. Keep your head up rookie, was the message.

“It happens and tomorrow’s a new day,” Kessinger said. "You have to go back to work and that’s all we can do.”