Astros fall to Reds in finale
Houston unable to stave off three-game sweep
HOUSTON -- The Astros simply ran out of comebacks.They erased three deficits Sunday afternoon against the Reds in front of 37,532 at Minute Maid Park, but they couldn't overcome a fourth after reliever Russ Springer allowed a go-ahead two-run homer to Ryan Freel in the 11th inning of the Astros' 6-4 loss. "We've had a couple of those heartbreakers here recently," manager Phil Garner said. "It's a loss. Psychologically, we haven't been on too good of a plane, here." No, not really. Garner's club has lost four straight games and 10 of its last 12. The Astros aren't playing well at home, either, where they've dropped three games below .500. Yet, the Astros had plenty of chances to steer their way back toward that mark Sunday. They were able to tie the Reds three times, but the Astros just couldn't grab that lead and finish. "We're finding a way not to win," Brad Ausmus said. "I don't want to say we're finding a way to lose. We're just finding a way to not win." The Astros could've won this game in the eighth, which began with them trailing 3-2. Mike Lamb, who started the inning with a pinch-hit single, was moved to second on Craig Biggio's sacrifice bunt. Chris Burke then flared a single over Freel's head at second, which allowed Lamb to score and tie the game. Lance Berkman had a chance to give his club the lead, but David Weathers blew a fastball by him for strike three, instead. Out No. 2. Morgan Ensberg didn't fare much better, nudging a weak grounder back to Weathers. Out No. 3. End of threat. Another opportunity missed. "We need to see better at-bats in those tough situations," Garner said. "We've been taking some fastballs and swinging at some breaking balls." The game was tied after the eighth. By the 10th, though, the Astros found themselves in a hole again. Reliever Dan Wheeler (0-4, 5.11 ERA) surrendered a go-ahead RBI double to Felipe Lopez, which brought Freel home all the way from first. Still, the Astros had some fight left in them in their half of the 10th. Biggio knocked a two-out double high off the left-center-field wall, and he scored on Burke's double down the left-field line. Again, the Astros had a chance to win in their last at-bat. Again, they came up a bit short, as Willy Taveras was called out at first base on a close play after hitting an infield grounder. "Over the last couple of games, I think we've had good comebacks at the last part of the game," Springer said. "That's a good start." The game was finished in the 11th, when Springer surrendered Freel's second home run of the game. "I thought we had him set up for that pitch," Springer said. Well, almost. "We've played a lot of extra-inning games in this last week," Springer said. "We're coming out a little short of the stick. You've got to pull up your own boot straps and do your job." Right-hander Fernando Nieve did his job well in place of right-hander Roy Oswalt, who was scratched several minutes before the game because of back spasms. Nieve started, lasted five innings and allowed just two runs on four hits. Nieve didn't have much time to prepare, though. He was told just a few minutes before first pitch that he was starting. "He did well," Garner said. "We had set him up to go tomorrow, but he kept us right in the ballgame." The Astros remained in the game after Nieve's departure. They just were unable to get the key hit to put them in front of the Reds. "We're certainly not winning enough," Burke said. "We're not making plays offensively and defensively. Getting swept is not what we had in mind."
Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.