By NEAL FARMER
I used to think that Mike Fiers was Astro-ese for pouring gasoline on a bonfire. I will have to admit that I did not like watching him pitch earlier this year because of the dents he allowed in the walls at Minute Maid Park. I believe I said he and Charlie Morton each would fall off the cliff after four innings, and that they should each pitch only four innings on the same day. (I assume that means they would have to fight to see who pitched in the fifth inning and qualified for a win).
But I will have to eat crow about Fiers.
He appears to have developed a learning curve, as he had never struck out more than five Twins in his first seven games against them, dating back to 2012. On Sunday, his fastball-curve combo kept the Twins off-balance. The right-hander went seven innings in the 5-3 win over Minnesota, and struck out a season-high 11 batters. Fiers retired 11 of the last 12 batters he face. He is the first Astros starter to go seven innings since June 16th. (If you were wondering why the bullpen has been so bad of late, there is your answer.)
The old Fiers did show up for two hitters, as Kennys Vargas and Ehire Adrianza both homered. Vargas’ shot was a moon shot to the second deck. But you usually don’t get beat by solo homers. The righty previously had given up only one homer is eight games.
Fiers only gave up four hits against the Twins, and then picked off one of those hitters at first base.
The talent was always in place. Fiers threw the only no-hitter at Minute Maid Park against the Dodgers on April 21, 2015.
But Fiers now sports a 6-4 record and is a big reason Houston has a 15.5 game lead in the American League West.
Hmmm, crow tastes like Blue Jays.
THIS IS WHY I WATCH BASEBALL – It used to be that that the worst time of the year for the Astros was baseball season (see 100-loss seasons). Now they are as fun to watch as any team in the league.
Even thought they are in first place, and would have to suffer a total breakdown to miss the playoffs, the Astros continue to do the little things the right way. My favorite of late involved Jose Altuve.
In the 7th inning on Sunday against the Twins, Altuve managed to steal third base by inches. The Astros batter at the time, Josh Reddick, later struck out by swinging at a ball in the dirt. The ball got away from Minnesota catcher Chris Gimenez, which allowed Reddick to run to first to try and get on base. Gimenez ran in front of the plate to retrieve the ball, looked Altuve back and then fired to first baseman Kennys Vargas. Reddick was easily thrown out.
BUT…Altuve waited until Gimenez threw the ball and ran home. Usually, the ball at first base would be too close to home such that you would need Usain Bolt to try and make the play close. Altuve bolted home and beat the swipe tag by Gimenez for Houston’s final run of the day.
I will readily admit that I came out of my seat and cheered – and I was not even at the game. And I sat down when I saw Ken Giles come in, and saw he allowed one run in the bottom of the 9th inning and had another Twin on base before recording the last out. Giles made me appreciate Altuve even more.
There is a lot of baseball to catch up on since last week:
THREE CITIES BEING CONSIDERED BY MLB EXPANSION – One is Mexico City. Would they be able to use Trump’s wall in the outfield?
ALL-STAR GAME – I did not watch the All-Star Game, just like I don’t watch the Pro Bowl (NFL) and NBA All-Star Game. It’s not real competition. But the Astros’ George Springer came away a winner in this year’s game, as he wore a microphone and talked during the game despite the stuttering that he battles daily.
BREGMAN RESPONDS TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO SEE HIM TRADED: I believe Alex Bregman called the offending fan flees (sic) on a nutsack. Or at least that is what I was told, since it has since been taken down and I did not see it.
Here is the Houston Chronicle take on it: http://www.chron.com/sports/astros/article/Astros-third-baseman-Alex-Bregman-s-Twitter-11287897.php
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION – The Touchdown Club of Houston is holding a fund-raising poker tournament at 6 p.m., Sat., July 29, at Whitmeyer’s Distilling Co., 16711 Hollister, Suite I, off of FM 1960 near Willowbrook Mall. Cost is $100 per person for 20,000 chips and re-buys at $50 per person. A meal is provided by Demeris Barbecue, and Karbach Brewing donated the beer.
The profits go toward a scholarship fund. You can purchase seats by using PayPal at touchdownclub.org.
The silent auction is stacked, as it has a Dallas Keuchel-signed orange Astros jersey; a Deshaun Watson-signed blue Texans jersey; a George Springer-signed baseball; a Nolan Ryan-signed HOF baseball; a framed, Jose Altuve-signed photo; a framed Earl Campbell-signed photo; a framed JJ Watt-signed photo; a VIP package for the Texas Bowl football game, with a parking pass; Texas A&M football signed by Kevin Sumlin; Baylor football signed by Matt Rhule; and a basket of bourbon, T-shirts and tour passes for Whitmeyer’s.
There also is a two-day pass to be won for L’auberge casino in Baton Rouge.
ASTROS TRADING FOR PITCHER? – The rumor mill went wild over the weekend about the Astros trading two prospects for a starting pitcher:
CLASSICAL NOTES – The Malaguena, by Cuban Ernesto Lecuona, is great to eat crow by.
QUOTE OF THE DAY —
“I don’t know if bourbon is the answer, but it is worth a shot.”
— Me, as a shameless promotion of Whitmeyer’s.
HOTTIE OF THE DAY –