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Bullpen costs Astros in loss to Bucs
04/02/2007 11:28 PM ET
HOUSTON -- The Astros aren't going to play the doom-and-gloom card with only one loss on their record, but the manner by which they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Pirates on Monday night should not sit well to those invovled.

Comforting phrases like "it's only one of 162" and "it's a long season" and "hats off to him, he hit a good pitch" resonated from Houston's clubhouse following this 10-inning defeat, and while the cliches do carry some truth, the Astros simply should not have lost this game.

Roy Oswalt was typically brilliant. The game moved at a quick pace. The offense, while not spectacular, presumably did enough.

And then, the ninth inning arrived.

Two relievers -- Brad Lidge and Chad Qualls -- ensured all Opening Day goodwill evaporated in a matter of minutes, serving up home runs that nullified an otherwise delightful game and causing the Astros to drop their opener before a sellout crowd of 43,803 -- the largest in Minute Maid Park history.

Lidge recorded two quick outs, but the happy cheers from the packed house soon turned into boos when Lidge yielded a first-pitch home run to Xavier Nady, who was hitless in his first three at-bats.

An inning later, Jason Bay's two-run shot off Qualls erased any hopes of a comeback, and the Astros were denied the Opening Day win, which would have been Oswalt's 99th career victory.

And now, the questions resume. Will Lidge get the ball in the next save situation?

"Yes," answered manager Phil Garner.

Why?

"Because he's my closer," Garner replied.

No one seemed to have a problem with the pitch Lidge threw to Nady. It was an inside fastball, in the same area where Oswalt had pitched to Nady throughout the game. Oswalt surmised Nady was waiting for it this time.

"I looked back at it on film, and it was probably two, three inches inside," Oswalt said. "It probably would have been a ball. He put a good swing on it. I think what Nady did, we had been pitching him in all night. I think he just sold out for an inside fastball and got it."

"With [Lidge], you've got to try to have a zone," Nady said. "Fortunately, I got a fastball in and I was able to put some wood on it. With him, he's got good stuff, you've got to battle up there and try to find something you can drive."

Lidge stood at his locker and answered the same questions for several minutes, contending that he was comfortable with the pitch he threw Nady.

"Honestly, the guy hit a good pitch tonight and I felt good out there," Lidge said. "It was an unfortunate result. The reality is, I still feel good right now. I still feel confident, I still feel like I can have a great season. I'm not going to worry about tonight. It is frustrating. There is no doubt about it. We got two pretty quick outs there."

Qualls was also fairly confident he threw the correct pitch to Bay, who turned on his sinker and deposited it into the left-field Crawford Boxes.

"That's my bread and butter [pitch] to him," Qualls said. "Usually he swings over the top of it. It wasn't a bad pitch. I talked to [catcher Brad] Ausmus and a couple of people in clubhouse who watched it on TV or saw the replay and they agree with me. Hats off to [Bay], he hit a good pitch."

Said Ausmus: "It was the pitch I was looking for. It was a pitch we had gotten him out on early in the game. Possibly, we went to it too much. But it was exactly where we wanted it and I give Jason Bay, who probably is the most underrated player in the National League, a lot of credit because he hit it."

Qualls was credited with the loss, but he was somewhat of an afterthought following this game -- mainly because he's not the closer and he doesn't have Lidge's track record, both good and bad.

Consider this loss a dual effort.

"I felt bad," Qualls said. "It wasn't the way we all had it pictured. That was a great pitch that Nady hit. Me and [Lidge] are kind of in the same boat. We made our pitch, the outcome just was not there. I think if he throws like that the rest of the year, he will be fine. They hit good pitches tonight, and our hats go off to them."

On the other side of the clubhouse, Oswalt, who yielded one run over his 95-pitch outing, offered support for Lidge.

"Hopefully, he works through it," Oswalt said. "He went through it last year, and some people got down on him, but no one in the clubhouse is down on him. He just has to go out there and have that mentality where no one can hit you, not be afraid of contact. Just say, 'No one's going to hit me when I get out there.' It's a long season. We've got 161 games left."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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