Things looked a lot better today, especially from 6th row seats right at beautiful Miller Park. The stadium is eerily similar to Minute Maid (excuse me — The Juicebox), what with the retractable roof and trying-a-bit-too-hard gimmicks. We got a train, they got a slide. And you can't ride on either.
Oswalt settled down after giving up an early run. He seemed to be having some trouble planting his left foot at first, and even brought the umps out to investigate the mound. But he settled down after the first and pitched well enough although he allowed 10 baserunners in 6 innings. Oh, and that new change up he's been working on looks AWESOME. Seriously. Facing Brady Clark (whom you might recall made the most stupendous defenseive play in all of baseball last year), Oswalt threw a 3-2 change up. Clark ducks out of the way, falling to the ground in terror. Strike 3. End of inning.
Oswalt was hitting 94 consistently with his fastball, 84 with his curve and 69 with his change. Every time. He's got incredible command (although he walked 3 today) and incredible ability to change speeds. And he's confindent enough to throw his new change on full counts.
Oswalt dominated in the batter's box too, hitting a double and a single in three at-bats. He got the big rally started in the 3rd by looping a single over Spivey's head, but was thrown out when Biggio tried to bunt him over. First off, this was a terrible call by Jimy. Biggio can't bunt, Oswalt can't run, and it's the third inning with the big boppers waiting on deck! Why bunt? (Everett also tried to reach base by bunting a couple innings later, but was out by a hair — he looked really fast)
Anyway, after an Everett double, a Bagwell punch out and back to back walks to Kent and Doggy (Doug Davis intentionally walked Hidalgo after going 3-1 on him), Berkman smashes his first career grand slam — Right-handed! Maybe it's just me, but Lance just looks silly batting from the right side. He claims he has more power there, and perhaps he does. But he still has terrible form for an elite outfielder. I'm glad Berkman was able to break out of his slump. He hadn't looked good at the plate yet, and was even demoted to 6th in the lineup.
The new 5-hitter, meanwhile, has been tearing it up. Doggy went 2-3 with two walks on the day. He scared us all in his third at-bat when he glanced a pitch off his left hand. He took a few minutes with the trainer to make sure everything felt alright, and stayed in the game. Frightening scene.
Bagwell, Biggio and Ensberg all had bad days, going 0-for-14. Ensberg made his first error of the year, bobbling a easy grounder. For some reason (probably Jimy's inexplicable dislike for him), Lamb replaced Ensberg in what appeared to be a defensive replacement in the 8th. Lamb also made an error at third, leading to runs in the 9th inning for the Brew Crew.
Brandon Backe, called up after Pettitte's injury, was able to log his first innings as an Astro. Although he gave up a couple runs in the ninth, he looked decent. His curveball looks as good as they say, and he was hitting the high 90s with his gas.
Some other things of note: Biggio still looks lost in centerfield. Junior Spivey (who rocked us with 3 doubles), hit a sharp liner into center. Good defenders would have caught the ball, and decent ones would have at least cut it off. Biggio, however, broke in on the ball too sharply, going for the catch. Realizing he couldn't get to it, he broke back, only to have it skid past him to the wall. Not so good, Bidge.
Oh, and Raul Chavez. Not much to say here, except for his amazing bare-handed grab on a pop bunt from Doug Davis. He ran forward expecting the bunt, but saw it trailing back over his head. He probably had enough time to catch it with his glove, but he reached out and caught it with his right hand instead. Hope it made SportsCenter.
A quick note about the Brewers: they look alright. Considering their payroll, they've fielded a decent team. And how good was that Sexson trade? Overbay himself could hit 30 homers soon, and Spivey, Counsell and Moeller are all decent players.
The Brew Crew actually outhit the Stros today, threatening often but never getting a hit when they needed it. Lyle Overbay struck out three times with a runner on third and fewer than 2 outs. That kills (especially for fantasy).
Hopefully Jimy will see how playing small ball pales in comparison to going for the big inning. We are not a bunting team. We are not fast. We don't have particularly great baserunners (save Bags). We shouldn't be playing small ball.
Most Important Thing: Oswalt. He was able to dominate on a day when he didn't have his best stuff. That's a good sign. He didn't show any ill effects from serving up Bonds' homer in the last pitch of his last start. And his groin didn't seem to bother him. Let's hope Pettitte's injury is the only one we see all year.
Oh, and for those who are wondering, the Polish won the Sausage race.