Jordan Lyles entered this season as the Houston Astros' No. 1 prospect, despite going 7-12 in the minor leagues last season. This spring he's gone just 3-3 in 10 starts with Triple-A Oklahoma City, posting a 3.20 ERA and a solid (but unspectacular) strikeout-to-walk ratio.
None of that stopped the organization, Tuesday night, from making Lyles, all 20 years and seven months of him, the youngest Astro to make his major-league debut since 19-year-old César Cedeño came up in 1970.
Lyles supposedly had a shot at winning a job in the Astros' rotation in spring training, but was farmed out early despite pitching well. When No. 5 starter Nelson Figueroa lost his job, it went to reliever Aneury Rodriguez. But with Wandy Rodriguez recently hitting the DL, Lyles finally got the call.
Tuesday night, he debuted at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, and for a 20-year-old making his debut at Wrigley Field, he could hardly have pitched any better. Through seven innings, Lyles held the Cubs scoreless on just four hits. Lyles gave up a leadoff double in the second, but got out of trouble. Lyles gave up a leadoff double in the fifth, but got out of trouble.
But Lyles' teammates could do little better against Zambrano; heading into the bottom of the eighth, Lyles had thrown only 84 pitches and held only a 1-0 lead, with Houston's lone run coming on Brett Wallace's fourth-inning homer. And in the bottom of the eighth, Lyles didn't get the chance to get out of trouble once more.
Rather, Lyles got into some trouble and then got himself into more trouble. First Geovany Soto led off with a double. Pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin tried to sacrifice pinch-runner Brad Snyder to third base, but Lyles threw the ball wildly past third base -- while his catcher was pointing to first base -- and Snyder scored the tying run while Colvin went to second.
Next came a trio of relief pitchers, with only the last of them able to stop the bleeding. When the inning finally ended, the Cubs led 3-1 -- thanks to RBI doubles from Darwin Barney and Aramis Ramirez -- and two of those Cubbie runs had been charged to Lyles, putting him in line for the loss.
Which he wouldn't get, of course. Because as well as both Lyles and Carlos Zambrano pitched Tuesday night, Chicago closer Carlos Marmol pitched that much worse and more.
Maybe Marmol was due for a rough outing. He entered the last day of May having allowed only three runs all season, with a 1.17 ERA. But relief pitching can do terrible things to a man's earned-run average, and few more terrible things have happened to a relief pitcher's earned run average than what happened to Carlos Marmol's.
Time's too short recount everything that contributed to Marmol giving up six runs, his ERA skyrocketing to 3.47 in the space of a few uncomfortable minutes. But Matt Downs tied the game with a two-run double, Michael Bourn's single plated Downs with the go-ahead run, and Hunter Pence made it 7-3 with a three-run homer.
Finally, mercifully, Marmol was lifted and Sean Marshall recorded two outs to end the carnage. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs went down meekly before Houston's Mark Melancon. And a deadly dreary season at Wrigley Field got just a little deader and drearier.
The Astros had lost eight games this season after leading into the eighth inning, which goes a long way toward explaining their position in the National League Central basement. But baseball's a funny game. They probably should have won those first eight games, and lost this one.