HOUSTON -- A pumped up Hunter Brown pounded his glove and yelled “Let’s go!” as he looked towards center field, where teammate Jake Meyers had just made a terrific catch at the wall for the final out of the seventh inning. Brown initially thought the ball off the bat of Dominic Smith was a gut-wrenching game-tying homer, but Meyers reeled it in 414 feet from home plate.
Brown got a hug from manager Dusty Baker and a fist bump from pitching coach Josh Miller when he reached the dugout -- a fitting reception for a job well done -- before remembering he had some props of his own to give out. He walked to the opposite end of the dugout, hugged Meyers and made him a promise.
“I said I owe him a butter cake from Mastro’s,” Brown said with a smile. “That’s his favorite.”
“He had pretty good command of his breaking ball,” Baker said. “It always sets up everything else. He got in trouble a couple of times and got out of it. The main thing is he had three double plays.
"That’s six outs on three pitches, and that saved you a couple of innings and saved our bullpen. Those double plays are so important because it keeps your pitch count down, and it usually takes you deeper into games. That was the major difference.”
Brown (6-3) remains squarely in the hunt for American League Rookie of the Year by lowering his ERA to 3.35 and his WHIP to 1.19 through 13 starts this season. Tuesday was his fourth start of the season in which he pitched seven innings and didn’t allow an earned run.
“It was good to get in the win column,” said Brown, who hadn’t won a game since May 26. “Every time that we come out on top is good for us and [we’ll] try and keep it rolling.”
Brown threw 69 of his 99 pitches for strikes and kept his pitch count in check with the double plays and by retiring six batters on the first pitch of the at-bat. He worked mostly with his fastball (38 pitches) and curveball (35), but generated only six whiffs on 50 swings as the Nationals fouled off 29 pitches. His fastball topped out at 98.8 mph.
"He's got electric stuff, a good fastball. [His] curveball was real good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I think we got caught in between with the curveball and the fastball. When a guy throws 97, you've got to get ready to hit the fastball, and you can't cover both. We saw a lot of foul balls over our dugout today, and that only indicates that they were sitting on soft stuff when they should be sitting on fastballs."
Brown walked the first batter of the game but quickly got a double play grounder. The leadoff batter reached again in the second inning, and Brown got another double play grounder. Runners were on first and second in the sixth inning when he got an inning-ending double play. Brown got 10 outs on the ground and one in the air.
“I thought the defense was great,” Brown said. “They hit a ton of ground balls.”
Brown carried a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning and was sitting at 86 pitches before an infield single with one out brought the tying run to the plate. With two outs, Smith crushed a slider and sent it to the deepest part of the park. Meyers chased it down on the track and caught it as his back bumped into the fence.
“When he caught it, it was pretty sweet,” Brown said. “Plain and simple. It was an awesome catch. It was sweet. It would have tied the game if it went over the fence.”
The Astros scored twice in the seventh and eighth, with Maldonado hitting his 100th career homer in the seventh and Jose Altuve scoring his 1,000th career run. José Abreu notched his 1,500th career base hit with a second-inning double as the Astros’ offense adjusts to life without injured slugger Yordan Alvarez.
“We just have to do what we can to try to score as many runs as we can,” Baker said. “Yordan’s a ways off, so we have to carry on until he gets back.”