By Ernie Palladino
While you’re working away on some other stuff, reliever Josh Fields is coming up for this post.
He struck out the side Monday night in the 10th inning, helping the Astros to their 10th consecutive win with a 4-3 victory over the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.
A pitcher that can get three outs in that inning is on the top of the rotation for most teams. For the Astros, it’s now making an impact that could put them in a parade one day as far as the world of playoffs.
Pitching is all about moving the game along, and Fields can do that. To see Fields going in for an inning gives the Astros a big chance to win. Though they may not get four out of that outing, they sure have a chance to save their closer, Ken Giles, for the finish.
Meanwhile, the other team can only waste up an inning-long gamble and add up to zero runs.
Fields’ accomplishments this season may have had some of the extra-base hits looking on the other side. He has piled up a 2.25 ERA in 65 appearances, with 46 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 49 innings. He also has struck out the side 19 times, while failing to get anybody out just twice. He has lowered his ERA from 4.60 when he went to the bullpen in April to 3.72 after Monday’s work, which was padded with a walk and a balk.
Fields tied the game 1-1 in the seventh with a long, soft single to right field that dropped between three defenders. Then he struck out the side in the eighth with a series of slurve pitches.
Baseball is a game where every swing matters. The home runs and the strikeouts and the mound umpire blows the call never matter. All the little adjustments, how each pitch looks against the plate and can slow a batter down, matter.
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Fields has every one of those developments on his side. And they matter so much that while so many other teams have pitchers whose biggest threat comes in games that end too soon, Fields is bringing in an important part of the night for the Astros.
Given what this team accomplished this past season in its first trip to the playoffs since 2005, it isn’t fair to ask for more. Winning the AL Central division and then knocking off the Red Sox in the ALDS was one thing. Doing it again, earning an easier, third-round matchup against the Red Sox, in less than a week, would take next-to-nothing for the Astros.
So when this team has had seven extra-inning wins and a sixth consecutive shutout over this season, when it has gone an extra two hours combined without being forced to the mound, it deserves the celebration.
Which is exactly what Houston fans got when reliever Mark Melancon got the Rangers out in the 10th on a ground out to third. Melancon had gone to the bullpen and then stayed back into the rotation when closer Ken Giles faltered.
The win keeps the Astros rolling while the Yankees and Orioles keep losing.
It seems like this team is destined for another AL Division Series run. And then, the playoffs. Another season with a cup of beer.