HOUSTON -- The unveiling of the 2022 World Series banner, the gold-themed jerseys and a pregame parade of the Commissioner’s Trophy kicked off a Thursday night fit for a champion. The only thing remaining for the Astros to do was what they had done for the previous decade: collect an Opening Day win.
A night of celebration at Minute Maid Park ended with a thud when the White Sox used a two-run double by Andrew Vaughn off All-Star closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth inning to snap a tie and beat the Astros, 3-2, handing them their first loss in a season opener as a member of the American League.
“It was a great atmosphere tonight,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted. You’ve got to tip your hat to [Dylan] Cease. He threw the ball extremely well. It was amazing to be back playing in front of these fans. We’ll bounce back.”
The Astros’ vaunted bullpen, which flexed its muscles in the postseason last year in helping Houston go 11-2 in the playoffs, capped by a Game 6 win over the Phillies in the World Series, surrendered a run in the eighth inning and two in the ninth. The Astros, who lost just five times last year when leading after seven innings, were beaten on Opening Day for the first time since 2012, snapping a 10-game winning streak.
“Sometimes you get knocked down and you got to keep getting back up and keep going,” said Bregman, who went 0-for-4 on his 29th birthday and got a pregame shoutout on the field from actor Mark Wahlberg. “It’s a long season. It’s 162 big ones. Turn the page to the next day and keep going. Definitely not the way you wanted a birthday to go.”
The Boston Beaneaters are popping champagne somewhere knowing their record streak of 10 consecutive Opening Day wins from 1887-96 will not be surpassed by the Astros.
The only member of the 2012 team on the current Astros squad is Jose Altuve, who’s out for the first two months after fracturing his right thumb in the World Baseball Classic. Altuve wore a pink cast on his hand and watched from the dugout as Houston’s offense was held to four hits, including a mammoth homer from Yordan Alvarez in the ninth.
Cease, who finished second to Justin Verlander of the Astros in last year’s AL Cy Young Award voting, carried a shutout into the seventh inning, retiring 19 batters in a row at one point, including 10 by strikeout. Still, the Astros led, 1-0, when they scored on a wild pitch in the seventh -- until Yasmani Grandal homered to tie it in the eighth.
“We didn’t have a lot of offense tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You’re not used to seeing breaking balls like that right out of Spring Training. Usually, he would bounce more of them. He was getting strike one with that breaking ball, and when you’re throwing 98, you don’t know if he’s going to throw a breaking ball or a fastball. He was on tonight. We usually don’t strike out that much, but that guy was pretty good.”
Pressly, who earned the save in Game 6 of the Fall Classic the last time he took the mound at Minute Maid Park, entered to the same flashing-lights, Johnny Cash fanfare as he did in the playoffs and gave up a walk and a hit before Vaughn’s double into left-center won the game.
“You keep putting opportunities out there, sooner or later somebody comes up with a big hit like Vaughn did today,” Baker said. “We didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Shoot, they left 11 or 12 runners on bases. Sooner or later, it’s going to bite you.”
The Astros didn’t get a quality start out of All-Star left-hander Framber Valdez, who pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams and was pulled after five scoreless innings and 85 pitches. Last year, Valdez set a Major League record by throwing 25 consecutive quality starts. In two Opening Day starts, Valdez has thrown 11 2/3 scoreless innings.
“We didn’t want to send him out another inning and have to bring somebody in in the middle [of the next inning]," Baker said. “We had him slated for 90 pitches and we didn’t want to take him too deep into the game because we have a long year, he’s thrown a lot of innings and we have to conserve Framber.”