Bottom of the Fifth: ASTROS 5 1 – 1 RED SOX
These new uniforms look fantastic. The open-air sunshine into Minute Maid park looks fantastic. Never seen it like this. The full house of fans looks fan-tastic. And Colby Rasmus, what a fantastic man. He’s like a suped-up, cleaned-up, in-shape version of those cavemen from the old Geico ad campaign (and short-lived TV show, I think?). I can say all this only after having been freed, as a Cubs fan, from the requirement to face a lineup of this quality on an annual basis after they left for the American League…
The team though, in 2016, they don’t look so hot. 5-12 so far on the year.
But is today the day they take a stand, stand up to the standings, withstand the might of the Red Sox? When, pretty pretty please, the Houston fans keep asking, will the real Houston Astros stand up?
— Houston Astros Orbit (@OrbitAstros) April 23, 2016
First up against Clay Buchholz is Luis Valbuena, who I can officially send my blessings along with, as founding member of the Chicago Well-Wishers Group For Ex-Cubs—Valbuena of the three so-so seasons on the north side. Once a Cub, always a Cub, or something like that.
So Buchholz is on the mound, standing there with his rat-tail/mullet/faux-hawk number peeking out the back of his hat like a speck of food on his cheek he’s forgotten to wipe off. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and this is the future of hair fashion—but if the end result of this inning is any indication, he’s in dire need of a reset, a full head shave, a de-mulleting at the very least.
Buchholz winds up, the long shadow of his lanky figure projecting sideways over to first base, as he delivers a first-pitch strike to Valbuena.
Stepping out of the batter’s box, “Louie V” adjusts his gloves, examining and then squeezing the barrel of the bat, and steps back in. Buchholz holds his glove high up in front of his face, with both tucked inside, waiting for the signs from his catcher.
Meanwhile a frightening corps of Chick-Fil-A cow-costumed mascots ready for some sort of cattle run on the main concourse, either the best or worst advertisement I’ve seen from any game this year. What we need here is “Tomboy”-era Chris Farley, egging on pal David Spade to a guerilla run of cow-tipping.
Valbuena fouls off several pitches, then walks as Buchholz loses control, with several pitches in a row not even close.
Jason Castro comes up now, former Astros star who hit 18 home runs in 2013, one of the lone bright marks on a team that was on the ups, but not quite up yet – and now struggling on a string of downs he hopes to steer his way out of.
Castro flies out to right.
Now Jose Altuve, the proudest short man in sports, the Muggsy Bogues of baseball, and the man in the driver’s seat of Houston sports for the next 4-5 months, with the Rockets set to lose out to the Warriors within the week, and the Texans far from starting up for another NFL go-round.
Altuve dodges an inside pitch for the first strike, looking down now at the third-base coach for the signs, with Valbuena on first. Hit and run? Bunt? Buchholz throws over to Hanley Ramirez at first, who’s about 400% the body mass of Altuve.
On the next pitch, Altuve lines one hard to third base, deftly snagged by Travis Shaw who leaps up and throws to second for the forceout. Altuve safe at first.
So they’ve got two outs now… not the makings of a big inning, or even anything in the range of medium-sized. Looking like another zero on the scoreboard, with a tie game going into the 6th.
But then George Springer comes up, bringing with him a hot streak of three straight games with a home run, and rocking the most hiked-up pant legs in the league, showing off calves that would make Johnny Drama more than jealous (not sure how topical “Entourage” is anymore, but hey).
Altuve takes a big lead now but holds, as Buchholz delivers to home on a 1-1 count.
Springer fouls one off harshly, twisting around and falling onto his back knee.
Next pitch: he hits a liner up the middle, but Dustin Pedroia is there with smart positioning, getting the glove just on it—but it sneaks out! Just through the webbing, out onto the grass, just long enough for altuve to sneak safely into second base.
Springer hits it sharply up the middle for a single. Runners at first and second with Correa batting. #Astros
— Houston Astros (@astros) April 23, 2016
And now the Sox are in real trouble.
Carlos “Alex Rodriguez meets Derek Jeter” Correa comes up, the 21-year-old second-year player and all-star, and easily the biggest headache for Buchholz from this lineup.
I think I hear a “Let’s go Red Sox!!” cheer booming out from the upper decks somewhere, as Correa calls time before the next pitch. Then, stepping back in, he’s hit by a pitch, trying to dodge a fastball drifting in to catch a piece of his jersey.
Now…things get really interesting. Up to the plate strides Colby Rasmus—the runner-up in the 2015 Playoff Baseball Wizard category only to Daniel Murphy, but he’s oh for two on the day and therefore due for something big.
Astros fans rise up in numbers now, waving towels, standing up in the sleepy afternoon sunlight.
Something’s gonna break. Either they score here, breaking the tie, or the fans get stung with a we-could’ve-had-em! pang of frustration that leads them up to the concourse in droves for unwanted run-ins with that roaming pack of marketing-savvy cows.
Buchholz delivers, his long shadow still leaning toward the first-base line, mirroring his contracted windup, just a little ahead of him—the shadow hoping, if only it could speak, to issue a prescient warning, tapping Buchholz on the shoulder, saying Don’t pitch this one… not looking good… Rasmus’ll line this one up…please…grand salami coming…
Rasmus has his front foot raised with just his toe touching the dirt, ready for the next pitch.
Is this the one?? No… Rasmus whiffs on a change-up trailing low.
So now, this is it. It’s got to be here. Buchholz pauses an extra second to gather himself, as if too scared to let happen what he knows is coming.
Everyone in Minute Maid Park up on their feet now, Boston and Houston fans alike, each with sunglasses, caps, squinting eyes, forearms shielding from the sun.
Something has to happen here, right? Can’t just be a strikeout.
The fans leap up immediately, as if they could see it already coming: a girl in a pink shirt in the second row is up out of her seat before the ball is even off the bat, the group of four in the front row ahead of her now leap up to Clouds 7, 8 and then 9, onto their tip-toes, cheering and hopping in the concrete aisle as the ball flies over everything, into the right-field stands. It’s 5-1 Astros, Colby Rasmus the hero, strutting to first with bat still in hand, like a caveman just having discovered fire.
Look what I have created!!!!! Me! Fire!! Me!!! Grand Slam!!!
— Houston Astros (@astros) April 23, 2016
This man, safe to say, is livin’ astro – which reminds me of my intent to hereby submit my proposal for the official Astros theme song, the one and only opportunity to surpass in quality that “Sweet Caroline” ditty so beloved by Rex Sox Nation.
“Livin’ Astro,” by the great Kool Keith:
This is easily the most excited I’ve seen a fanbase for a team with a 5-12 record, perhaps because of what greatness came last year, and what they hope will await them in 2016 after this April slump.
This Astros team came very, very close to making the ALCS last year, and maybe even the world series, in the first of (they hope) many years competing with the fruits of a long rebuild now finally on the field.
And that Colby Rasmus, he’s so hot right now. He is the caveman, he is the fire. Cavemen: 5, Red Sox 1. His sixth home run of the year.
— cooper 4 prez (@presidentcooper) April 23, 2016
“Is that a wake-up call?” says the Houston TV color guy—as I imagine Rasmus dialing literal wake-up calls to the entire roster, alerting them that yes room service is on the way, but they’ve got to get up from bed first to get it.
The four driven-in astros now storm back into the dugout with a swagger that’s been missing all month, like a single file line of rowdy school-kids on the first hour of summer break, high-fiving Carlos Gomez with Altuve bringing up the caboose.
Preston Tucker grounds out to end the inning, but it’s all Astros from here on out, winning 8-3 in the end and chipping away at that shaky early record.
Remember the name: Colby Rasmus, the man of the day, man of the week—sounding like some sort of wild-west character—Wyatt Earp vs. Jesse James and Colby Rasmus hanging around as sidekick, drinking tequila in the saloon, crushing skulls and taking no prisoners.
If Houston gets back up in the standings, watch out for this guy in the MVP race.