Astros avoid no-no, walk off on ... HBP?

September 18th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The Astros won Friday’s game in dramatic fashion, with Chas McCormick taking a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch with one out in the 10th inning off Arizona reliever Tyler Clippard to send Houston to a 4-3 win. The walk-off HBP was only the third in franchise history for the Astros, and the first since it happened to Richard Hidalgo on Aug. 8, 1998.

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

McCormick said he was quite surprised when it happened, because his batting stance is well off the plate, and it happened on an 0-2 count.

Ryne Stanek picked up the win after holding the D-backs to one run in the top half of the finishing frame. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single to right field, and Aledmys Díaz drew a key walk to load the bases and set the stage for McCormick.

“Boy, that was a strange game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It was a weird game. We had one hit and two runs [for a while], and they had one run and a whole bunch of hits. Fortunately for us, they left a whole lot of runners on base, and our pitchers pitched out of a lot of jams. But our guys, they kept battling.”

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

For some time, whether the Astros would get any hits at all appeared to be an open question, with veteran D-backs southpaw Madison Bumgarner dealing a no-hitter until two outs in the sixth. But with one swing, Jose Altuve broke up Bumgarner’s bid and made some history of his own.

By belting Bumgarner’s high fastball to the Crawford Boxes, Altuve gave Houston a 2-1 lead with his 28th home run of the season and his 849th all-time hit at Minute Maid Park. The latter mark ties Lance Berkman for the most by any player in stadium history (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 up big for the team. It was on an 0-2 count, pitch up, but Jose can drill fastballs that are up. Obviously, it was a huge hit by him."

But normally-reliable reliever Kendall Graveman was uncharacteristically shaky in the eighth, surrendering two singles and a walk. The single was a two-out RBI knock by Josh VanMeter, which tied the game and set the stage for the bizarre finish in extras.

The win improves the Astros to 87-60 on the season, with five wins over their last six games. They continue to lead the A’s in the American League West by a comfortable seven-game margin with 15 left to play. Their magic number to clinch the division was lowered to nine.

“It doesn’t matter how you [win] it, they all mean the same,” Altuve said of Friday’s odd finish. He said he did not recall seeing another walk-off hit-by-pitch in his career.

Patching it together
In what was effectively a bullpen game for the Astros, Brandon Bielak started due to multiple injuries in the starting rotation and tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out six. Stanek, Graveman, Blake Taylor, Brooks Raley, Cristian Javier, Phil Maton, and Ryan Pressly all recorded multiple outs in relief and kept Houston within striking distance.

“It was outstanding,” said Baker, whose team was without a normal starting pitcher on Friday due to Framber Valdez’s and Jake Odorizzi’s injuries.

“We were mixing and matching the best way we could,” said Baker, who had rested Taylor and Raley -- his two left-handed relievers -- in recent days so that they would be available for longer stints during the weekend series. “They have a lot of [lefty hitters], and you've got to have some lefties to combat them.”

Proving Baker’s analysis correct, Taylor and Raley combined to throw two scoreless innings, and they kept the Astros tied despite Bumgarner’s early brilliance.

As for the unusually sluggish offense, Baker attributed it to a strong showing by a wily veteran in Bumgarner -- and perhaps some lethargic bats after a late-night arrival following Thursday’s game in Arlington. The Astros flew back to Houston early Friday and had an extremely quick turnaround before facing the D-backs. 

“Hopefully, we'll get a good night's sleep and come back smoking tomorrow,” Baker said.