Astros bench keys win against Reds
Lamb, Loretta, Scott spark eighth-inning rally
HOUSTON -- Because baseball is played just about every day for six months straight, teams tend to stay pretty even-keeled after games, win or lose.
But several key Astros figures labeled Thursday's 7-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds as "huge," which is understandable, considering how badly the team has played in the last two weeks.
A loss on this night would have been devastating. The Astros led for seven innings, buoyed by a masterful performance by left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. But the Reds erased a two-run deficit by scoring three off Chad Qualls in the eighth, and suddenly, the 29,931 fans at Minute Maid Park were quieted, wondering if this one would slip through the Astros fingers too.
But down, 5-4, manager Phil Garner called on his bench and was rewarded with key hits from two of his most experienced hitters, who set the table for a dramatic comeback.
With one out, Garner inserted Mike Lamb to hit for Adam Everett, and Lamb, facing Mike Stanton, laced a first-pitch single to center. Mark Loretta, hitting for Brad Ausmus, singled to left, and Luke Scott, who had entered the game in a double-switch in the top of the inning, doubled to left-center, scoring both runners.
Craig Biggio, facing David Weathers, doubled to left-center for his 2,957th career hit. That drove in Scott, giving the Astros the two-run lead.
"We know late in the game, usually, Phil's not going to leave any stone unturned," Loretta said. "We're pretty much ready. If we're losing the game in the late innings, all the guys on the bench are ready to go. He has used us a lot and given us some starts as well, which helps when you get in that situation."
The comeback marked the first time the Astros have logged back-to-back wins since they won five straight more than two weeks ago.
"We did a nice job coming back in a game that we thought we had all the way," Garner said. "Usually, our formula is you get the lead, usually we turn it over to our late bullpen guys and we hold onto the lead. We didn't tonight but our guys came through for us in a big way. That was a big win for us."
The enormity of the victory wasn't lost on the players, either.
"There are wins that can be more motivation than others," Loretta said. "Particularly when they took the lead, there was a little bit of a deflation for a while there. Then we said, 'Hey, we have a lot of charges this year, we haven't always won, but let's try to do it again.'
"To come back and snatch that game back, essentially, is good. It counts as one win, but emotionally, it's probably a little bit bigger."
For the first seven innings, the story was Rodriguez, who is probably starting to feel like the only "w" he'll see near his stat line is the one in his first name.
A long time has passed since the left-hander has been credited with a victory -- 10 months, in fact. Following a July 2 win over Texas last year, Rodriguez has made 11 starts and 17 appearances, all without a win.
He certainly pitched well enough to win Thursday. Rodriguez reached a career-high eight strikeouts over seven innings, yielding just two runs. Ken Griffey Jr. launched a solo shot in the first frame, but the Reds didn't score again until the seventh, when David Ross doubled home Adam Dunn, who had singled with one out in the frame.
"I've seen him pitch pretty good, but what's really encouraging is this is now a string of good outings," Garner said. "For all the reasons, he threw the ball over the plate, he threw strikes, he got quick outs because he did establish early in the game that he was going to throw strikes. They started swinging and he got a lot of quick outs."
Rodriguez credited his curveball as the key to success in this outing.
"Every time I come out, I learn something new, and I use it in the game," he said. "That's why so far I've done pretty good."
Rodriguez's hope for a win evaporated when Qualls yielded three runs in the eighth. He walked leadoff man Ryan Freel, and Brandon Phillips turned a well-hit ball to the corner in left into a triple.
Griffey followed with a liner toward the hole at first, and although Lance Berkman leaped to his right, the ball bounced off his glove and into shallow right-center, plating Phillips to tie the game at 4.
Griffey stole second and made it to third on a throwing error by Ausmus, setting up the scoring opportunity for Jeff Conine, who sent a fly ball deep to left-center. Griffey scored easily, giving the Reds a 5-4 lead.
But the Astros regained the advantage before they made their second out in the bottom of the frame.
"It always feels good when you go out there and cough up the lead and they come back and pick you up," Qualls said. "It's a great feeling knowing they have your back once in a while."
By no means do the 13-15 Astros think they're coasting, but they did admit taking two of three from the Reds was a step in the right direction.
"It was important," Lamb said. "It's a positive step for this team because of how much trouble we had scoring runs and finishing teams off. It was evident tonight that we weren't letting it affect us, how we were playing and how it was going."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.