If the streak needed to end, it's only fitting that it should come against the worst team in baseball pitching a rookie in his first major league start. Jarred Cosart pitched a great game, to be sure. He threw eight innings of two-hit ball with three walks and two strikeouts, and he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He leaned heavily on a live fastball that averaged 95 mph, and he also mixed in a sharp 80 mph curve. He threw only five changeups on the night, all to left-handed batters. Troubled by a high walk rate in the minors, Cosart was the beneficiary of a generous but fair strikezone from umpire Jeff Kellogg.
But lets not get carried away. The Rays lost this game as much as Cosart won it. Cosart, despite the shiny velocity and the big curve, is not the next Justin Verlander. His fastball, while fast, is also straight, to the point where the gameday algorithm usually calls it a cutter.
Now admittedly, a 95 mph cutter is probably pretty disorienting for a major league hitter when they've never seen the guy before, but it's something teams will adjust to as Cosart goes around the league. We have words for guys with average to below average command of a straight fastball, and without much of a third pitch. Sometimes the word is "reliever," sometimes it's "batting practice." Note that the Rays only struck out twice, and only whiffed four times on 95 pitches.
David Price, pitching in his third game since returning from the disabled list was excellent and continued his recent run of impressive efficiency, pitching a complete game on only 87 pitches. Of those 87, only 17 were balls. That aggression may have hurt him in the first inning as he tried to establish his fastball. The Astros, remembering their recent demolition by a dialed in, strike-throwing Price came out ready to swing the bat.
In the first at bat of the game, Jake Elmore hit a low liner to shortstop Yunel Escobar's right. Escobar dove, and had the ball in his glove but couldn't squeeze it, putting the leadoff man aboard with a well-struck infield hit. Three singles later (two well hit, one finding a hole), Elmore and Chris Carter came around to score to give the Astros a two run lead in the first inning.
Price adjusted to Houston's aggression as the game progressed though, mixing in 24 curves and 20 changeups and leaving his cutter mostly on the shelf, according to Brooks Baseball's MLBAM numbers. He got steady whiffs with each.
In the top of the fifth inning, Price got into a very small bit of trouble. Matt Dominguez doubled, and then advanced to third on a fly ball to right field. The infield was brought in, and Price got angry. He hadn't reached 95 mph all game and had rarely touched 94 mph, but he punched Marc Krauss out on three consecutive fastballs (94, 95, 95) on the top outside corner.
Ben Zobrist finally broke up Cosart's no-hit bid with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning on a grounder past second. While they may have saved themselves from embarrassment, the Rays were not able to take a step toward winning the game, though, as Evan Longoria immediately erased the runner by grounding into a double play. The Rays actually hit into four double plays on the night, and Cosart only faced two more than the minimum for his eight innings of work.
In the ninth inning, after pinch hitter Kelly Johnson drew a leadoff walk, Cosart tried to collect himself, muttering into his mitt. He clearly was a bit put off, since he didn't notice his catcher throwing the ball back to him. The ball hit him in the head, and Bo Porter decided it was time for Jose Veras to come out of the bullpen.
Veras produced yet another double play (from Yunel Escobar), and a routine grounder to his shortstop (from Desmond Jennings) that should have ended the game, but Elmore's throw was short and Chris Carter could not produce a scoop (E6), bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Luke Scott. Scott worked a great at bat, bringing the count full and then pulling a grooved fastball just foul in the eighth pitch of the bat. On the ninth pitch he lined up the middle to score Jennings and pass the pressure to Ben Zobrist.
Sam Fuld pinch ran for Scott. Fuld was running when Zobrist lined into center field, and he was easily able to go first to third. A part of me wanted him to test Brandon Barnes's arm and come all the way home. He was at full speed and made a good turn at third before being held. But with Evan Longoria due, I understand the decision to hold him. On the one hand, Veras has a nasty curve and has been ridiculously tough on righties this year (2.60 xFIP). On the other hand, his career split is surprisingly unimpressive. Longoria just missed his pitch, giving a curveball over the plate a ride foul, but then taking a fastball on the outside corner for strike three to end the game.
Some other notes:
- In the fourth inning, the Rays infield put on a show. With J.D. Martinez on first base, Carlos Corporan grounded a backdoor curveball hard up the middle just to the left of second base. Zobrist ranged to his right to stop the grounder, and then flipped it to Escobar who needed to reset his feet but still completed the play with a powerful throw to first. For the final out of the inning, Zobrist had to wait for a high chopper, but beat Brett Wallace to the plate with another quick backhand flip.
- Elmore, the Astros' shortstop, really worked out his rays counterpart. He first lined to Escobar's right (dropped), then Escobar's left (caught). In Elmore's third at bat, he hit a slow grounder to Escobar's right that forced Escobar to charge and make a tough throw across his body (he did).
- In the bottom of the fifth inning, Jose Molina hit a fly ball to the gap in right center. J.D. Martinez couldn't get there, and missed it by about an inch. Brandon Barnes, coming from the other direction, maintained his concentration and made a diving catch to preserve the no-hitter.
- In the eighth inning, Elmore singled and tried to steal second. Jose Molina threw him out with a perfect strike that brought Zobrist's glove to the tag nearly as soon as he caught it.
- James Loney led off the Rays' half of the eighth inning. He fouled a pitch off the inside of his right knee, but then lined a single into right field. He tested the knee running down the right field line, but elected to continue. His speed would not become an issue, as Wil Myers immediately grounded into a routine 4-6-3 double play and Matt Joyce bounced one down the line just fair to end the inning.