Pence highlights comeback win
Rookie the offensive hero; Loretta makes key diving stop
MILWAUKEE -- Hunter Pence's offensive heroics didn't go unnoticed by his manager or teammates by any stretch, but Mark Loretta's diving stab at second base to end the eighth, killing a potential Brewers rally, was received as warmly as the star rookie's game-winning contributions.
The Astros beat the Brewers in comeback fashion on Monday at Miller Park, 9-7, after posting four runs in the eighth frame off three Milwaukee relievers. The highlight was Pence's two-run triple off Greg Aquino that tied the game at 7, followed by a passed ball by catcher Johnny Estrada that allowed Pence to score the go-ahead run.
"I knew he was going to do something right there," interim manager Cecil Cooper said of Pence. "He's just one of those kind of players. I'm just glad he's on our side."
Aquino entered the game with runners on first and second and uncorked a wild pitch, moving Ty Wigginton and pinch-runner Brandon Backe into scoring position for Pence, who in this game tied the club rookie record for the most doubles (28) and extra-base hits (50).
Pence's hit sailed to the wall in left-center, leaving little doubt about the speedster's chances to reach third.
"I really didn't have that much time to think," Pence said. "I was just running to first and rounding and I saw it get by him. It was more like I hit it and started running and whatever happens, happens, and it happened to get by him. I was fortunate it found a hole."
The Astros trailed by three heading into that inning. Luke Scott drew a one-out walk off Derrick Turnbow and advanced to second on Wigginton's base hit to left. Turnbow loaded the bases by issuing a walk to Mike Lamb, who was pinch-hitting for Brad Ausmus.
Orlando Palmeiro strode to the plate to pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot, but he was replaced by Craig Biggio after Brewers manager Ned Yost called for left-hander Brian Shouse. Biggio sent a sacrifice fly to right, narrowing the Astros' deficit to 7-5.
Yost then called upon Aquino to face Pence, who already had two hits in this game. Aquino hadn't pitched in the big leagues since April 20, when he yielded a grand slam to Biggio.
"We showed some character," Cooper said. "That's what I liked. Some comeback, some fire."
Loretta's heroics arrived in the bottom of that inning. With Brad Lidge on the mound and runners on second and third with two outs, pinch-hitter Vinny Rottino smashed a liner to the right of Loretta, who dove and caught the ball while he was still airborne. Loretta made a quick recovery and threw to first, beating Rottino by a fraction of a step.
"Oh man, that was so amazing," Lidge said. "Seriously, that was one of the best plays I've ever seen, and from my perspective on the mound, that is the best play I've ever seen. That is an outstanding play, fully stretched out, at a huge, huge part of the game."
Loretta began the game at shortstop but moved to second prior to the start of that inning.
"I just made a stab for it," he said. "It kind of found my glove. I just happened to make that play in that situation. Brad's had some tough luck. It probably would have put them ahead there or certainly tied it. The situation in the game really makes that play gratifying."
Cooper's intent was for Lidge to pitch the eighth and the ninth, but a slight tweak of the right knee during the eighth ended the closer's day a bit earlier than expected. Lidge felt a twinge when he moved to cover first on Craig Counsell's groundout, prompting Cooper and head athletic trainer Dave Labossiere to check on him. Lidge had to cover first again when Rickie Weeks knocked an infield single toward first, but Lidge said he didn't feel any pain on that one.
"We have to be a little careful," Lidge said. "But, overall, the pain subsided as the inning went on. Just a little bite, a little scare. We'll just ice it a lot and make sure that it feels better and hopefully it will tomorrow."
After dropping two of three to the Cubs to begin the road trip, Monday's comeback win appeared to inject a bit of life into a frustrated team that has to settle for playing spoiler to the contenders throughout the last three weeks of the season.
Cooper, thrilled to have beaten his old Brewers club in his first trip to Milwaukee since he was named manager, hopes the club can build on this improbable win.
"Those are the games that build you up, get you excited for tomorrow," Cooper said. "We've been scuffling, trying to keep our heads above water, be competitive. Those [Brewers] are fighting for something, really. For us to come back like that and play that well at the end is pretty special."
"This is one of the best games for the team this season, as far as just a great team effort," Pence said. "The Loretta play was what we needed, a big defensive play, to give us some energy and pump us up a little bit. That was one of the most fun games we've had as a team. Basically, it was a great all-around ballgame for us."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.