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HOU@COL: Pacheco drives in two with the go-ahead hit

DENVER -- Jordan Pacheco's soft single in the eighth inning made a day full of hard hits count for the Rockies.

Pacheco's soft liner fell in the right spot in center field, and drove in the winning runs in a much-needed 9-7 victory over the Astros at Coors Field in the first game of a doubleheader on Monday afternoon in front of 34,546.

The Rockies' five-run first inning included Pacheco's RBI triple, as well as Wilin Rosario's two-run shot. The blast was Rosario's seventh, which leads National League rookies. Troy Tulowitzki had an RBI double in the first, and led off the fifth with his eighth homer of the season, and fifth in seven games.

But the Rockies (18-29) have had a lot of big starts, only to wind up on the losing end. Monday's game was also in doubt because right-hander Juan Nicasio gave up six runs, five earned, in six innings. Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie knocked a two-run shot off of Nicasio in the first inning, and he teetered for much of his time on the mound.

Pacheco, whose chance in the eighth came because of Lowrie's two-out error, made sure the Rockies won by feathering a two-out, 1-1 curveball from Fernando Rodriguez (1-5) in between the Astros infield and center fielder Jordan Schafer to knock in two runs.

"I knew he was going to throw me a curveball, and I felt that was my best chance," said Pacheco, who has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games, and has performed steadily since a brief demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs in April. "I got lucky enough and got just enough of it."

The Rockies were coming off of a 2-4 road trip to Cincinnati and Florida, during which they averaged 5.3 runs per game and had legitimate chances to win all but one game, only to be failed by poor pitching. This time, they outhit the Astros, 14-12, but needed the eighth-inning rally to avoid further frustration. Monday's doubleheader opens a stretch of 13 of 16 games at Coors Field, where the Rockies hope to regain relevant status in the NL West.

"For the third time in seven games, we put a nice number up there in the first inning," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "We did the same thing in Miami, where we scored seven runs total in the first two games of that series in the top of the first inning. We answered very nicely the two runs they got with a five-spot."

Nicasio's on-again, off-again struggles have been in line with what has happened with a mostly young starting rotation. Nicasio gave up nine hits, six runs (five earned) and three walks in his previous start, a loss at Miami. This time, he struck out five against one walk, which was an improvement.

However, the top five hitters in the Astros' lineup went 9-for-15 against him, while hitters 6-9 were 0-for-11 with one walk. Tracy said Nicasio's mechanics are sometimes rushed, which prevents him from keeping his fastball in the bottom of the strike zone or making his slider break downward consistently. But at least he didn't put the Rockies in a big hole.

"I feel better -- only one walk. I'm fighting, throwing a lot of strikes," Nicasio said. "Six innings, I gave up six runs, but I can only control throwing a strike."

Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, who entered the game with a 1.71 road ERA, struggled even worse than Nicasio, giving up 10 hits and seven runs, four earned, in five innings.

"In this environment, in this ballpark, we've all seen games like this," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "In this ballpark, more chances than not, that's how games are won and lost, when you give them extra outs and walks and don't hit the cut-off man. The outfield is so big, and it's tough to cover all the ground, so if you give them those extra outs and so forth, it's too easy to get those extra hits."

DJ LeMahieu doubled in a third-inning run, and Tulowitzki's homer leading off the fifth gave Colorado a 7-6 lead. However, the Astros kept it close, and Schafer created a run to tie it in the seventh. Schafer bunted for a single off of Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino, stole second and scored the first run off of Ottavino in eight appearances on Jose Altuve's single.

Lowrie's error, however, scuttled the Astros' comeback effort.

Dexter Fowler, who went 3-for-5 in his first start after missing four starts because of a right ankle injury, hit a bouncer to Lowrie, who wanted to flip to second. However, second baseman Altuve wasn't at the bag and the throw hit the foot of pinch-runner Jeremy Guthrie and bounced into center field. Guthrie was running for Jason Giambi, who had walked.

Pacheco's winning single made a winner of reliever Matt Belisle (2-2), who pitched a scoreless eighth, and set up Rafael Betancourt to pitch a scoreless ninth for his ninth save.

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