Despite loss, Astros satisfied with trip
Houston drops series finale, finishes 4-3 on California trek
SAN DIEGO -- The Astros have established themselves as a notoriously poor road team this year, and if they're looking for one main reason why they're barely in contention in the National League Central, they can point directly to their 24-41 record away from Minute Maid Park.
But they made some progress during their most recent road trek, and although they lost to the Padres, 5-3, on Sunday, the players, for the most part, were satisfied with their 4-3 swing through Southern California.
"I look back on it very positively," Lance Berkman said. "From a realistic standpoint, if you look at who we're coming to play, the pitching we're going to be facing, to say we're going to end up this road trip with a winning record, especially the way we've played on the road the first part of the season, I think everybody would have been happy with a 4-3 mark."
The Astros split a four-game set in Los Angeles before taking two of three in San Diego. They had not finished over .500 on any road trip since May 4-10, when they went 4-2 against the Cardinals and Reds.
They were hoping to sneak away from San Diego with a sweep, but considering Sunday's pitching matchup, the odds weren't in their favor.
Not surprisingly, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux prevailed in this game, as he and the Padres beat Houston's Matt Albers before 37,628 on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon at PETCO Park.
Maddux allowed a Berkman solo home run over six frames while striking out three during an efficient 73-pitch outing.
"It appears to be vintage Maddux," said Astros manager Phil Garner, who wore a sly grin. "Maddux, from a few years back. I want to look back at the films."
Perhaps Maddux and his strike zone were receiving the benefit of the doubt from home-plate umpire Todd Tichenor, but if so, Astros players didn't use it as an excuse. They simply chalked it up to a good outing by a great pitcher.
"That's just him," Mike Lamb said. "He didn't make any mistakes. I don't think I got any balls that were really good pitches to hit. I guess Lance was the only one who got something that was drivable. [Maddux] just did his thing, and he's tough. It's tough when he's hitting his spots."
Albers, on the other hand, struggled toward the end of his outing. He appeared to be strong for five innings, but he battled control issues in the sixth. Adrian Gonzalez led off the inning with a homer, but Albers appeared to work out of trouble when Khalil Greene grounded out and Rob Mackowiak lined to first.
But Albers walked Terrmel Sledge and hit Kevin Kouzmanoff with a pitch before he issued another free pass to Josh Bard, his final batter. Garner called for Mark McLemore, who walked in a run before allowing a base hit to Brian Giles.
"I thought [Albers] threw OK," Garner said. "He goes through five innings and he's going pretty good, and he just can't get through the sixth. In that inning, he started getting everything up. He didn't get down at all. That hurt him. The home run was up, the other pitches were up."
"That pitch to Gonzalez, it just leaked over the plate," he said. "It was probably the right height, just over the middle of the plate. The last few hitters, I was missing down and a little off the plate. My release point kind of went off a little bit. I couldn't quite get out of it."
Albers had worked out of trouble earlier in this game. He induced double plays in the second and third innings, which contributed to a low pitch count.
"I got out of a couple jams early in the game. I was able to slow it down a little bit, just take a deep breath," Albers said. "Sometimes I get on the mound and have a little rapid fire. With two outs, nobody on in [the sixth] inning, I walked a guy and then hit a guy and then walked another one. I didn't quite make the pitches I wanted to."
Added Garner: "I can envision him pitching seven innings and getting two or three double plays. That's the way I see that he's going to be a good pitcher. Those are the things I expect from him."
While the players mostly were satisfied with the trip, there also was a feeling of regret that the trip didn't end on a high note.
"We put ourselves in position to have a nice streak here," Garner said. "We let it fizzle today. We averaged almost 3.4 runs this trip. We have to either throw shutouts or do better offensively, one way or the other.
"We fought hard. This was a well-played, well-fought ballgame on our part. We just didn't get the runs. We didn't stop [them] when we needed to, and we didn't get the runs when we needed them."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.