Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bucs Hold Off Houston 5-3

Well, that's one way to start an era. Dallas Keuchel's game opening pitch to Starling Marte was an 86 MPH belt high, outside half cutter, and he belted it over the fence in left center. Welcome to the show, hey? Neil Walker tried to follow, but his blast was into straight center, hauled in 430' away from the plate way atop Tal's Hill by Justin Maxwell. Cutch kept the beat going by drilling a curve into center. Garrett Jones got a dead center fastball and knocked it over the wall in right center; he's seeing lefties pretty well lately.

Keuchel fed McGehee back-to-back changes and got him to fly out to left center. He worked Pedro down and away, getting him to ground out to first on a 3-2 cutter. Still, great jump out of the box; it's 3-0 Bucs. For AJ, it was three up, three down on eight pitches.

Rod Barajas drew a 3-2 walk to open the second. Ex-Astro Clint Barmes caught enough of a 2-1 changeup to lose it; he knocked it into the Crawford boxes. Keuchel calmed down after that, getting the next three Bucs. Burnett was groovin' early, again putting down Houston with a pair of K. 5-0 after two, Buccos.

Keuchel almost gave up another when Jones took a two seamer to the wall in right center, hauled in by Brian Bogusevich at the 373' mark, but finished with a clean frame. Carlos Corporan got the first 'Stro knock with an out in the third when he flared a curve into left, and Keuchel bunted him up. Jose Altuve fanned, and it was on to the fourth.

The Bucs went down 1-2-3 again, Keuchel surviving a deep ball to left center hit by Barmes that was corralled on the track; he's got nine in a row now. It was another spotless frame for AJ, who is at 46 pitches after four.

After an out in the fifth, Marte notched his second hit, a grounder through the hole that got under the glove of SS Marwin Gonzalez. Walker drew a four pitch walk. Cutch bounced into a force to put Pirates at the corners. On a pickoff toss to first with Cutch breaking, Marte headed for home and was eventually cut down barely at the plate to end the frame on a delayed double steal that needs some coachin' up.

With one down, Chris Johnson drew a 3-2 talk on a fastball just outside the black. Bogusevich tried to go the other way and drop one over the short fence in left, but Marte tucked it in on the track. AJ blew a heater past Corporan, and the fifth frame was in the books. The sixth zoomed by; 1-2-3 for both sides.

Enerio Del Rosario took the ball in the seventh. With two down, AJ singled. Marte knocked another ball high and deep, but it was to the left center notch and pulled in for the third out. AJ went 3-2 on Maxwell and got him to fly out deep to center on a fastball down the middle. He did the same to Scott Moore, who whacked the full count heater into left for a knock. Gassed? Nah. Martinez hit the next pitch to The Kid, and the 4-6-3 DP closed out the seventh.

Walker led off the eighth with a roller up the middle. After catching Cutch looking at a called strike three maybe on the outside black, Rosario was yanked for lefty Xavier Cedeno. It worked, barely, as Jones lofted one deep to Maxwell who pulled it in on Tal's Hill for the second out; he's squared up on lefties quite well tonight. Not so McGehee, who K'ed on a 3-2 foul tip. It was sub time for the Bucs; Alex Presley trotted out to right to replace Jones.

AJ tried to jam Johnson with a heater; he turned on it enough to drop it into the Crawford boxes and make it a 5-1 game. After an out, Corporan crushed a 3-2 heater over the fence in right center, putting on the hot dog after the blast, and it was time for Brad Lincoln after AJ glared a bit. Burnett went 7-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits (2 HR), one walk and five K, delivering 103 pitches. Downs was issued a 3-2 walk. He fell behind Altuve 2-0, but came back to get him on a long drive to center; in a park with a normal center field, the scoreboard lights might have burned out. Gonzalez grounded out, and the score was 5-2 with three outs to go.

Rhiner Cruz climbed the hill for Houston. After throwing 97 MPH heaters to Pedro, he tried to spin a two strike swing-and-miss slider at him, but El Toro lined it into center to open the ninth. Barajas smacked one to Tal's Hill, where Maxwell hauled it in. Lotta balls have died there tonight. Barmes just missed dropping one into the cheap seats in the Crawford boxes. This is one interesting park. 420' bombs are routine outs; 320' cans of corn almost go yard. Pinch hitter Drew Sutton flew out to right center, and Hanny jogged in to wrap it up.

Pedro made a very nice barehanded grab and throw to get Maxwell on a drag bunt. Moore walked on four pitches that weren't very close and went to second on a wild pitch. Hanny reached back and K'ed Martinez swinging at a slider. Johnson fell behind 0-2, laid off three chase pitches, and softly lined a full count heater into left center just past Barmes to plate Moore. Hanny tossed another ball away, and Johnson moved up a base. There he stayed, as Hanrahan zipped three heaters past Bogusevich to record his 30th save. AJ is 12-3, and all's well that ends well.

Remember when the Bucs bunted all the time and small ball was their mantra? Funny how they've morphed into Earl Weaver's Orioles in a few short weeks. Jeff Karstens faces Jordan Lyles tomorrow night as the Bucs look for their third straight win.

  • Starling Marte is the third Bucco to homer in his first at bat. The others were Walter Mueller on May 7th, 1922 (also on the first pitch) and Don Leppert on June 18th, 1961. The last player to lead off with a HR in his first game was the Mets' Kazuo Matsui in 2004. Here's the list of other MLB players who homered on the first pitch they saw.
  • Kevin Correia told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review that he's not on board with his demotion to the pen. ""I'm not happy about it," said Correia. "Starting pitching is what I want to do. I think that's best how I help the team."

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