Astros bats stay cold as skid continues
Houston has dropped 10 straight games, most since '95
HOUSTON -- If it can go wrong, it probably will go wrong.
That's the way it's consistently gone during this incredible losing streak for the Astros, and Wednesday was no exception.
Trailing in the eighth and ninth innings Wednesday, Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence all gave the Astros legitimate chances for a rally by crushing pitches from Cincinnati starter Aaron Harang.
Unfortunately for the Astros, all those line drives somehow found their way directly into the gloves of Cincinnati fielders, leading to the Astros' 10th consecutive defeat, 4-3, to the Reds in front of 31,904 at Minute Maid Park.
The losing streak is the longest for the Astros since 1995, when they had a franchise-record 11-game losing skid.
"I don't remember ever having it quite this bad," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "This is really ridiculous. We've got guys that are capable. We struck the ball really well tonight and got nothing for it. This is crazy."
Trailing 4-2 entering the bottom of the eighth, Craig Biggio led off with an opposite-field double, putting the tying run at the plate for the heart of the Astros' batting order and raising his career hit total to 2,974.
Ensberg followed by ripping a pitch to deep right-center, but Norris Hopper made a running catch on what likely was the hardest-hit ball of the game. Biggio advanced to third on the out.
Then, Berkman scalded a ball between third base and shortstop. But third baseman Edwin Encarnacion made a fantastic stop and threw to first, nipping Berkman for the out. Berkman did drive in Biggio to bring the Astros within one, but the out took away hopes of a bigger inning.
In the ninth, Pence led off with a line shot down the right-field line that initially looked like it could go for extra bases. Fittingly, it somehow went right into the glove of first baseman Jeff Conine. Luke Scott and Adam Everett each followed by grounding out to end the game, a complete game victory for Harang (6-2).
"I've had bad luck hitting balls right at people," Ensberg said. "The key is to keep a positive mind frame during this time and accept the fact that I'm seeing the ball well and hitting the ball hard, and I just have to wait for those balls to drop. Because I promise, at some point they will drop. They have to.
"I do know that guys had some really great at-bats today and did some really positive things. I think you saw some very good signs. But you're only on the verge [of a turnaround] once those balls start landing."
While many fans have questioned the psyche of a team in its longest losing skid in a dozen years, those in the clubhouse aren't losing hope.
"I'm coming out each day more and more fired up," Ensberg said. "I recognize that this is a dogfight and a battle, and I refuse to give in. I'm not going to lay down. I'm going to go out there and do everything that I can to do something positive. This is one of those terrible times in baseball during a season and I refuse to give up."
Wandy Rodriguez (2-5) pitched the Astros into an early hole, allowing three runs in the first inning on four hits, including an RBI double by Ken Griffey Jr. But the left-hander settled in after that, allowing no more runs over his final four innings.
"I started really tough, but I fought back and kept the game close to see if we could tie the game," Rodriguez said through an interpreter. "In the first inning, I made a few bad pitches and missed spots. But after that, I came back and hit my spots."
Carlos Lee drove in Houston's first run with a two-out double to left in the first inning, scoring Ensberg. But after Everett's one-out single in the second inning, Houston went without a baserunner until Lee led off the seventh with a single to right.
Lee eventually scored that inning on an RBI single by Everett, bringing the Astros to within 4-2 and setting the table for the near-rallies in the eighth and ninth.
"I'm optimistic we'll break loose every night [offensively]," Garner said. "Every night I come to the park thinking we're going to put together 20 hits. Sooner or later, you've got to catch up [with averages]. We're not going to be last in the league in runs driven in. It's going to happen. [The hits] are going to fall."
The Houston bullpen was strong. Brad Lidge tossed a scoreless inning, lowering his season ERA under 3.00 for the first time this season. He has an 0.66 ERA with 17 strikeouts in his last 12 outings.
But despite the strong bullpen work, the offense couldn't come through. And the losses are starting to add up.
"It's a pretty frustrating time for us," Biggio said. "I don't think I've ever seen as many guys struggling as we have right now. We just need to get this monkey off our back, get a 'W' and start having more guys do the little things to win baseball games. I don't think we've seen times like these in a long time."
Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.