Astros lose 6-3 in a thankfully modest fashion
From the middle lane of Interstate 10 through Phoenix, Arizona, on my way from the Pacific Northwest down to the Gulf of Mexico, I had trouble making out Chase Field in the distance, on account of the sandstorm. What was an odd brown haze obscuring a view of the track houses in the suburbs was building to a series of 30-foot high dust devils and full scale, in-your-face, The Mummy-style mayhem. The field looked nice through the veil, but I was in little mood to stop and look around as this unknown phenomenon threatened to swallow up me and my little car. And we were almost out of gas.
Just outside of the city, the dust storm crescendoed as we drove through a Native American reservation whose wide and unoccupied landscape rendered Phoenix a mirage. Visibility dropped to ten or fifteen feet as cyclones brazenly approached the highway and crossed them like escaped convicts.
I pulled into the last gas station for miles and left my wife and dog in our little car and tried to fill up the same way I had over and again through the course of the previous twenty-five hundred miles. But not one of those miles was a sandstorm mile. As my head cleared the protection of the driver side door, my face was pelted with burning sand, propelled by an oven-hot wind that heated my skin on contact. I leaned into the yellow menace to keep from rolling away like a tumbleweed.1
As I pumped gas–it was hard to imagine that the fuel wouldn’t be chock full of grit–I marvelled at the sublimity of the Arizona desert, where interior shots of air-conditioned oases such as Chase Field, with its green grass and swimming pools and happy-looking citizens, belie the surreal terror of the desert that waits, hot and ornery, at the edges.
The Astros’ trip to Phoenix continued to contribute to the sense of other worldliness I felt in the middle of the Arizona sandstorm. On Monday, Houston staged a hit parade against a solid pitcher in Dback Daniel Hudson. On Tuesday, Brian Bogusevic hit a prodigious home run to center field, but that and home runs from Jimmy Paredes and JD Martinez couldn’t hold off Justin Upton and Miguel Montero. I watched much of that game, but faded in the late innings, and the strange conclusion was little more than a fever dream.
Last night, much to the relief of the earnest National League fan, the pitch and yaw of all those hits and runs ebbed, and baseball equilibrium returned. Starting pitcher Henry Sosa, late of the San Francisco Giants, raised my hackles out of the gate with his poorly controlled fastball, though his live arm showed promise. In the early going he clocked in at 94 mph regularly, with a ton of lateral slide. The problem was that he couldn’t control that kind of movement; instead of starting in the middle of the plate and letting the natural movement catch the edge of the zone, he started it on the edges and let it sail. When he tried to get one over, it fattened up. Power hitter Willie Bloomquist touched one such fastball for a very quick home run to start the game.
Reminiscent shades of failed Astros pitching prospect Ezequiel Astacio–whom Sosa vaguely resembled in the first inning in both coiffure and command issues–evaporated as the innings wore on. Sosa, to his great credit, adjusted. He didn’t adjust to opposing hitters in particular; he adjusted to himself. The velocity of his fastball dropped in the 2nd inning and beyond, and with that drop came an increase in his command. Though his fastballs were a touch slower, they nicked the edges of the strike, and but by the grace of Greg Maddux, they stayed low. If I was a major league pitcher, I would take a day trip on an off day and visit a local tattoo artist, who I would commission to ink STAY LOW across my pecs in Old English font. Unless you are Aroldis Chapman, staying low is better than throwing hard, and young Astros pitchers like Sosa, Bud Norris, and Jordan Lyles must learn this from the likes of Wandy Rodriguez to solidify themselves at the highest level. Henry Sosa showed himself capable, and after the Bloomquist-stained first he kept the game respectable.
Sosa’s counterpart, some guy called Collmenter, threw straight over the top with the odd deliberateness of an Olympic track and field athlete.2 I was reminded of Rod Beck3 The delivery must have created some deception, though, as the Astros swung right through through a good number of easy-going fastballs. Collmenter’s change-up floated homewards like a retiree easing his way into a 5 o’clock buffet, and his curveball elevated and fell in roughly the time it takes for the desert sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening.
Things are Looking Upton
The owner of the prettiest right-handed swing I can think of, Justin Upton has pummeled Houston pitching at a Pujolsian rate. For the best hitters, the norm consists of impact drives and even outs that challenge the skill of the defense. Weak outs are an aberration. By the end of this third game of the DiamondSnakes series, I simply assumed, first, that Upton would hit a home run. Barring that, second was a double, then a long out to the outfield, then a sharply lined ground ball out, etc. A strike out was unthinkable, a walk possible but unlikely.
Upton hit a home run on Tuesday that launched off of his bat like a bottle rocket, along with a double and another hit for 4 RBI. Yesterday he hit a double and a couple more singles, one of which screamed past the ole´-ing glove of Jimmy Paredes, who surely never dreamt of fielding a ball hit so hard while dominating the home fields in Bajos de Haina, San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. Back to Upton, have a look at his Fangraphs page for a look at a well-rounded, elite baseball player who is the anchor of this unexpectedly fine Arizona team.
- Also, there was tumbleweed. ↩
- JD and Brownie managed to wring a ton of content from the fact that Collmenter was from Michigan, that his little town hosted a Josh Collmenter Day, etc., which is what happens when the home team is in last place, I guess. ↩
- It was the arm slot that drove the recollection, not Collmenter’s demeanor, which was decidedly unBeckian. ↩