Swept in DH, Astros' fatigued 'pen falters late

September 6th, 2020

George Springer began Game 2 of Saturday's seven-inning doubleheader with his 37th career leadoff home run, and that quickly showed the Astros they could fight through the hangover of another gut-punch loss. Only that’s not how things are going for this team at the moment.

The Astros ended up taking another stunning loss, a 7-6 defeat to the Angels, as they were swept in a twin bill on a sweltering day at Angel Stadium.

Anthony Rendon’s three-run home run with one out in the top of the seventh inning put the Angels ahead, erasing a 6-4 Astros lead that had gotten Houston within two outs of salvaging a doubleheader split. The Astros had lost the first game, 10-9. In the nightcap, they were playing as the home team because it was a makeup contest that was originally scheduled to take place in Houston on Aug. 26, but it was postponed as the city prepared for Hurricane Laura.

It’s not just that Houston lost both games. It’s how it lost both games. In both of them, the Astros got little from their starting pitchers, then were forced to throw inexperienced relievers into the mix thanks to a tired bullpen.

The Angels rallied for three runs in the seventh in both games to hand the Astros the type of losses that can linger in the heart and mind. There was also a similar plot when Houston lost in walk-off fashion in the 11th inning in Friday's series opener.

Now, the Astros are 21-18 and 3 1/2 games behind the A’s in the American League West, as they're three games into an 11-game road trip that also includes stops against the A’s and Dodgers, a pair of first-place teams.

“We've got to just continue to fight,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You’ve got to be a fighter. That’s what it's all about. You got to fight through tough times. You can either hang your head and quit, or you can tighten your belt up and keep fighting.”

In three games against the Angels so far this weekend, the Astros have gotten a total of 7 1/3 innings from their rotation. Those three starters allowed nine runs and walked six.

As a result, Baker was piecing together a tired bullpen on a day when Angel Stadium was a ballpark-record 109 degrees for Game 1 and 97 degrees for Game 2. He didn’t have an assortment of his relievers, including closer Ryan Pressly and his best setup man, Andre Scrubb.

To try to close it out against the Angels in Game 1, Baker turned to Blake Taylor and Enoli Paredes to preserve a 9-7 lead. They couldn't. In the nightcap, Baker was down to three relievers and tried to get a six-out save from right-hander Humberto Castellanos, who was added to the roster as the 29th man for the twin bill.

“The young kids are doing the best they can do,” Baker said. “I mean, a lot of them overachieve, and we're asking a lot of them. But, you know, it starts with starting pitching."

When Baker was asked about holding a team meeting or giving his club a pep talk, he said: “You know, talk is cheap. These guys are professionals. These guys have a lot of pride. They know how to win.”

Springer’s leadoff home run gave the Astros quick life. Then, Josh Reddick made it 4-0 with a three-run homer in the second. When the Angels rallied to tie, Springer homered again, belting a two-run home run in the fifth, making it 6-4.

Castellanos seemed to be on his way to saving the Astros after they had lost three leads in Game 1. He entered his sixth big league game in the sixth and struck out the side. But after getting one out in the seventh, Justin Upton singled and Mike Trout walked to give Rendon a chance to put the Angels in front. Which he then did.

For the Astros, one silver lining is that Jose Urquidy’s first appearance of the season went about as well as they could have expected.

Urquidy sailed through the first three innings before allowing two runs in the fourth and departing after 63 pitches, which was about what the Astros had hoped for.

“I was really excited,” Urquidy said. “I was 100-percent healthy. I want the next outing to be better.”

And Baker was excited about it, too.

“I thought he was very good," Baker said. "He kept the ball down and had an outstanding changeup. I was hoping to get five [innings] out of him, but he had that long fourth inning.”