May 19: Brewers 4, Astros 2
May 20: Astros 6, Brewers 4
May 21: Brewers 4, Astros 3
It's really befuddling how an Astros team with so much talent could be at the bottom of the heap, but that's where they are after sipping some bad brew from the Brewers. It's so annoying: Houston could have been back at .500 (for the first time since Game 2 of this disappointing season), but they just let the chances slip away in 2 of the 3 very close games of this series.
Here's one take-away for the Astros: If you want to beat the Brewers, you have to score the runs before the ninth inning. That's when Trevor Hoffman takes the mound. Since returning from the DL, he's had about a dozen chances to show how nearly perfect he is, and two of those came in the games you lost to Milwaukee this week.
Game 1 provided Astros fans with a bit of a scare, as yet another pitcher was pulled unexpectedly for an injury. This time it was Mike Hampton, yanked with only 60 pitches, after throwing 4 inning, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks. It turned out not to be anything too terrible - a cut on his finger - and he'll be able to make his next start. There were three things to like about this game: (1) Matsui's stealing home in the first inning, (2) Ortiz's solo homer - first by an Astros pitcher this year, and (3) Fulchino's perfect three innings in relief. Aside from the Hampton scare, there was one thing to dislike about this game: The Astros lost. After those two runs, they couldn't manage to squeak out anything else - Berkman, Lee, Blum, Pudge all finished the game with oh-fers. By the time Hoffman took the mound with the Astros two runs down, the game ended (as the poem goes) "not with a bang, but a whimper."
Game 2 went a lot better, as we've come to expect when Wandy's on the mound. I don't actually mind saying "I toldja so" - I've been saying since Spring Training that this year is Wandy's big one, if he just stays healthy. It was another dynamite performance for our pint-sized lefty: He pitched 7 innings, giving up only one run on a solo homer (his first HR since last August). Six hits, just 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts - low for Wandy. This performance earned Wandy his 5th win of the season, and lowered his ERA to 1.83, second best in the NL.
The game had an odd start: Bourn was finally tasked to lead off, and did so with a hit - only to be immediately called back to hit again. Matsui, who had never come to the plate, was declared out. (The pitch-by-pitch scored it as: "Matsui grounded out to catcher.") Turned out that Coop had told the team of the change in the batting order, but not the ump - the lineup card was wrong. Bourn went on to walk, and scored on Berkman's double.
The Astros hitters rallied for Wandy, scoring runs in each of the first 3 innings and throwing in an extra pair for good measure in the sixth (turned out that they were needed after all). Tejada hit a solo homer to lead off the second. Pence hit a 2-out 2-RBI triple in the third to give Houston a 4-0 lead after 3. Pence led off the sixth with an infield single, then scored on Tejada's double. Pudge's groundout put Tejada on third, and he scored on Wandy's first hit of the season. Wandy actually smiled as he stood on first base - not something you see much of when he's on the field.
Once Wandy was done for the night, the Brewers attempted a comeback. Reliever Arias, who pitched a perfect eighth, led off the ninth with two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs. That caused Coop to bring in Sampson, who allowed two of the runners to score on a double, and then another of his own, before ending the game with Wandy's win preserved.
Game 3 was the biggest disappointment. I ran home as fast as I could from work so that I could see Oswalt pitch. I will admit that this wasn't his finest start - he gave up only 1 run while he was on the mound, but was in and out of trouble with 10 hits over his 6 1/3 innings. His Astros team mates didn'g give him much room for error: Their measly 3 runs all scored on homers, a 2-run shot by Pence in the second, and a solo number from Tejada in the fourth.
The Astros had another big chance, when Berkman slid into home plate to score in the fifth inning - and was called out by the ump. The Puma jumped high into the air, tossed his helmet, stamped his feet and yelled (looking more than anything like a giant 4 year old having a tantrum). The only thing that he got for his troubles was an instantaneous ejection. Then, of course, Cooper had to jump into the fray to show solidarity, and got himself thrown out also, leaving third base coach Ed Romero at the helm for the fateful decisions in the seventh.
After striking out the first batter of the seventh inning, Oswalt allowed a single and a walk; he seemed a bit gassed after 106 pitches and several high-intensity situations. That was enough for our Cooper Wannabee to pull him. Eight pitches and two pitchers later, Roy O had yet another no-decision. Fulchino hit his batter to load the bases. Byrdak give up a single to Fielder, allowing Oswalt's two runners to score, tying up the game. Corey Hart doubled off Sampson the Astros' third reliever of the inning, scoring the Brewers' go-ahead run.
Wright and Hawkins did a great job of keeping the Astros in the game. Each pitched a scoreless inning, striking out two. But the Astros did not threaten until the ninth. Hoffman gave them a tease, allowing Blum and Pudge to single before shutting down the side. It's probably good that the Astros didn't tie it up in the ninth, if they were going to ultimately lose. Romero had already used up just about the whole bullpen.
I think I almost felt worse about Oswalt not getting a win out of it than I did about losing the game - andthe series. It's ridiculous that the Wiz only has one win for the season a quarter of the way through - what, he's going to end the season with 4 wins? NOT.
This could be my last blog entry for a couple of weeks. I'm going to be on vacation, and I doubt if I'll be able to watch any games. It would be nice if my house/dog-sitters could keep up my blog, but alas, they are not Astros fans.
I'm hoping that by the time I get back, the Astros will be well above .500, and that Berkman will be pushing .300. This too shall come to pass. It's hard to imagine that they could do this without my faithful virtual attendance at their games and my tweeting cheers. One can only hope.