Astros drop Lone Star opener
Albers touched for five runs on six hits in only three innings
HOUSTON -- Matt Albers has been a master of extremes during his stint with the Astros.
When he's had control of his pitches and remained down in the zone, he's been excellent, dealing three quality starts in two Houston victories. But in starts where he's had command issues, he's had significant struggles keeping runs off the board.
Friday's start was certainly one for the latter category.
The Rangers chased Albers after three innings, scoring five in the third behind a two-run double from Sammy Sosa and back-to-back home runs from Nelson Cruz and Ramon Vazquez, leading to a 7-2 Texas victory. It was Albers' third start out of six where he didn't make it beyond the third.
"I didn't get the ball far enough in on Sosa, then I left a couple balls up and that's been the case the last couple of starts," Albers said. "I haven't been quite as consistent as I'd like to be. I've got to find a way to keep the ball down."
Kenny Lofton led off the inning with a single before a walk by Michael Young put two on with no outs. Albers struck out Mark Teixeira, but ran into trouble in the Sosa and Cruz at-bats when home-plate umpire Tim Timmons wouldn't give a strike call on several borderline pitches.
"I thought [Albers] made some good pitches but didn't get the calls," manager Phil Garner said. "Then he elevated a little too much [to compensate] and he got hurt."
RBI singles from Young in the fourth and Lofton in the sixth extended the lead to 7-0.
Meanwhile, for five innings, the Astros went hitless against Texas starter Robinson Tejeda before Craig Biggio finally broke through in the sixth with a single leading off the inning, snapping a 0-for-16 slump for the second baseman. Biggio later added a double in the eighth, bringing his career hit total to 2,968.
Mike Lamb followed in the sixth with a walk and Lance Berkman ripped a single to right field, loading the bases with no outs for Carlos Lee. It seemed the Astros were gaining momentum and had their ideal hitter at the plate, bringing the crowd of 37,634 to its feet in anticipation of a rally.
"[Feldman] is one of the tallest pitchers in the league and he got up for it," Biggio said of Lee's hit up the middle. "He made a nice play, and so did the catcher. He got out of the box and turned it real quick. That was a big play, and you have to give him credit for executing it."
Timmons called Feldman for a two-out balk, scoring Lamb, but Luke Scott struck out to end the threat.
Biggio's leadoff double in the eighth resulted in another run when Lamb followed with a double of his own. Lee drove in Lamb two batters later with a sacrifice fly to center, bringing the Astros within three, but that's as close as they would come. Scott flied out to end the inning.
"We just didn't swing the bats very well in the first half of the ballgame," Garner said. "We woke up in the last half, but then we were already in a bind. On a night when we needed to score some runs, we just didn't score enough."
Dave Borkowski and Rick White pitched six solid innings in relief of the ineffective Albers, allowing only two runs -- one earned -- on five hits and four strikeouts.
The unearned run came when Hunter Pence committed his second error of the season in center, dropping a hard-hit ball from Lofton at the base of Tal's Hill in the fourth. Lofton advanced to third and scored on Young's ensuing single.
Albers' next start in San Francisco may be the last in his current Major League stint. He's a likely candidate to be sent down when Jason Jennings returns from the disabled list, which is expected to be in about 10 days.
Ben Dubose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.