The 2019 MLB season was filled with action-packed games, breathtaking plays and heart-stopping finishes. Although it seems like a distant memory, the 2019 season was one of the most explosive – on both sides of the ball – in MLB history. In terms of runs/game, only six seasons since the introduction of the DH in 1973 rank higher than 2019; Five of them were in the Steroid Era. From the mound, pitchers have set new league-wide strikeout records every year since 2008. To kick off this series, we look at a game that had all that excitement, embodying the vibe of 2019: The Houston Astros against The Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.
Houston: 57-34 // Starter: Gerrit Cole (9-5, 3.09 ERA, 13.1 K/9)
Texas: 49-42 // Starter: Jesse Chavez (3-4, 3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9)
The Rangers are seven games over .500 at this point! They were outperforming expectations, but luck wasn’t fueling it. Their Pythagorean W-L% showed negligible deviation, and they boasted the league’s fourth-best offense, a few sports ahead of Houston. The Astros, on track for a third consecutive division win, relied more heavily on their pitching. Up to this point, they are third in runs allowed, giving up 4.1/game. The day’s matchup reflects the disparity in staffs: the Cy Young contender against a swingman making his fifth start of the year. The game’s lineups reveal power up and down. The slash lines of the leadoff and fourth-place hitters would make any stathead drool.
|Lineups with BA/OBP/SLG|
|George Springer CF .306/.386/.591 Shin-Soo Choo RF .291/.387/.495|
|Jose Altuve 2B .257/.322/.445 Willie Calhoun LF .270/.309/.494|
|Michael Brantley LF .323/.381/.507 Elvis Andrus SS .302/.338/.450|
|Yordan Alvarez DH .338/.407/.701 Joey Gallo DH .275/.414/.640|
|Yuli Gurriel 3B .274/.311/.476 Rougned Odor 2B .198/.264/.407|
|Josh Reddick RF .289/.330/.432 Danny Santana CF .299/.332/.509|
|Robinson Chirinos C .222/.348/.439 Asdrubal Cabrera 3B .228/.317/.393|
|Tyler White 1B .223/.325/.340 Ronald Guzman 1B .207/.284/.407|
|Myles Straw SS .296/.406/.370 Tim Federowicz C .220/.273/.488|
The Astros went down 1-2-3 to begin the game with Chavez keeping his subtly moving cutters and sinkers down in the zone. It suddenly became less of a mystery why 2019 was his 12th year at the big league level. The Rangers got a big leadoff boost from Choo, who stroked an 0-2 pitch into the lower rightfield seats.
In his haste to “establish the fastball”, Cole pumped 97 to the exact middle coordinate of the strike zone (see image courtesy of MLB.com). In the top of the 2nd, Chavez faltered, with no help from home plate umpire Rob Drake. Two pitches that should’ve been called strikes in the first two hitters contributed to a two-run Gurriel dinger. One word solution: Robots.
The Rangers fought back in the bottom half with another homer, this time from Danny Santana. A well placed 97 mph fastball couldn’t prevent Santana from elevating into the second deck, an estimated 430 feet. As the Rangers broadcast crew pointed out, the homer boosted Santana’s average against Cole to .857 (6-7!!). Nuts. The top of the 3rd saw Elvis Andrus commit a run-scoring error, and the bottom entailed Cole getting back on track by striking out the side. The score was Astros 3, Rangers 2 after three innings.
After Chavez’s second 1-2-3 inning, the Rangers got another solo blast. On an 0-2 pitch to Gallo leading off the inning, Cole spun a semi-hanger at the knees. The pitch was simply obliterated, his fourth bomb against Cole in 2019. Once again, the Astros returned the favor, taking a 4-3 lead in the top of the 5th. Jose Altuve saw four pitches: 2-seam, Cutter, 2-seam and Cutter, mashing the fourth out to center. In the bottom part, Andrus atoned for his throwing error with an RBI single. The knock followed two excellent at-bats by Guzman and Choo, drawing walks on eight and four pitches respectively. But Chavez unraveled in the 6th. Even a good pitch to Yordan Alvarez was slashed into the right-center bullpen.
An infallible adage applies to that flyball: What goes up must come down. Or in the case of Mr. Chavez’s ERA: What goes down must come up. Two singles later he was replaced by Adrian Sampson, and another hit by Tyler White brought in two runs (charged to Chavez). The Rangers didn’t respond, and after 6, the Astros led 7-4.
The top of the 7th brought up Alvarez again, and lanky lefty Brett Martin couldn’t keep him in the ballpark either. His second solo shot off a center-cut fastball made it 8-4. Gerrit Cole’s night was over, so Hinch turned to Will Harris for the bottom half. Seven pitches in, he had given up a blast to Federowicz, and was removed after two more Rangers reached base. Then, with men on first and third and Ryan Pressly on the mound, Robinson Chirinos fired wildly trying to nab Andrus stealing. Choo scored to make it 8-6. Jose LeClerc worked a 14-pitch 8th, and the Rangers faced Hector Rondon in the bottom. After a walk and flyout, Ronald Guzman ambushed a first-pitch slider, pounding it off the rightfield foul pole to tie the game. The ninth home run of the evening.
Shawn Kelley retired the Astros in order for the top of the 9th, and the Rangers with momentum, batted for the win. Another Andrus single off Roberto Osuna and a Gallo walk made it first and second with one out, but Odor struck out. Danny Santana stepped to the plate.
It’s probably obvious what happened next, but the how is much more interesting. Baseball is a sport where a player’s best is required every day. But the best isn’t gut-wrenching. Sometimes a player’s best is not enough.