Backe's gem halts skid at seven
Ensberg hits tie-breaking homer in the fifth
CHICAGO -- When Major League teams win a ballgame, the players, coaches and manager line up on the field for a round of high fives before retreating to the clubhouse. This is standard practice, and normally, the players do this without showing much emotion.
But the Houston Astros couldn't hide their ear-to-ear grins after beating the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, 5-1. There wasn't a player on the field following the win that could hide his elation, having pushed what earlier in the day manager Phil Garner called a "900-pound gorilla" off their backs.
"We're all like, smiling," Morgan Ensberg said before retreating into the clubhouse. "And I don't know what to do."
Who can blame him? Life on the road hasn't been kind to the Astros this year, and Wednesday's win ended all kinds of negative trends. Their seven-game losing streak stopped. Same goes for their seven-game road losing streak. It was just their second win in May, ending the notion that they could stay on pace for one road win per month, for a grand total of six road wins this year.
"Even when you try to be positive, when you're losing, you're losing," Garner said. "Guys don't like to lose. We've had guys that continue to try [to win]. This is a feel-good night tonight."
Considering how bad things have been for the Astros on the road this year, and coupled with the fact that they were facing Greg Maddux in the series finale, let's face it, the odds were not in the Astros' favor.
This is not a knock on Brandon Backe, of course, but when a young pitcher goes against a future Hall of Famer, the youngster is often looked at as a footnote to the home crowd.
But Backe was better than Maddux on Wednesday, and the Astros benefitted before a typically raucous crowd of 38,118 at the Friendly Confines.
Backe pitched brilliantly for seven-plus innings, holding the Cubs to one run on seven hits. The Cubs scored their lone run on a Neifi Perez single in the third.
Backe's bat was just as valuable in this win. The former position player singled with two outs in the third, stole second and scored on Orlando Palmeiro's single to right. The stolen base was the first of Backe's Major League career.
Ensberg's solo homer off Maddux in the fifth broke the tie, and the Astros' three-run eighth broke it open enough for the visiting team to breathe a little easier.
Clinging to a one-run lead, Backe contributed a sacrifice bunt that advanced Brad Ausmus, who led off the inning with a single. Ausmus advanced to third on Maddux's wild pitch, and he scored the Astros' third run easily when Todd Self singled to right.
After Craig Biggio reached on an infield single, Maddux was replaced with Michael Wuertz, who allowed an RBI single to Lance Berkman. Adam Everett, running for Biggio, scored on Wuertz's wild pitch to cap the three-run frame. It was the first time the Astros had scored three runs in a single inning in more than a week.
"Everthing about tonight was fun," Backe said. "Everybody on the team did great. I felt good on the mound, and everything fell into place right when we needed it. We were struggling. This is what we needed."
Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge each contributed a scoreless frame to preserve Backe's well-deserved win. Lidge, one day after struggling with his control in a losing effort, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth in the non-save situation.
The Astros realize one win cannot erase the hole they created with a 2-21 start on the road, but they're hoping they can build from their victory over the Cubs.
"You can't get your confidence up until you win some games," Lidge said. "A lot of times, with a team with the talent we have, [it] can snowball. You've got to hope that's what's going to happen now, start snowballing some wins and get our confidence on the road.
"[It was] a good, convincing win. We didn't have to scrap or anything. We were able to get a solid win tonight. That really helps."
"The feelings we have in here are the reasons why you want to win," Ensberg said. "These feelings just feel like you did something good, did something positive. It's worth something. Before, after having a good game, it goes for naught. It's difficult to be pumped up when you lose.
"You have to take these games, recognize there was something positive, remember these feelings. Remember that we've done something positive, and take it to the next game."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.