Late rally falls short vs. Cubs
Potential tying run stranded at third base in the ninth
HOUSTON -- The last couple of weeks have been mostly about missed opportunities and runners stranded on the basepaths, but for one fleeting moment on Wednesday, it looked like the tide was about to turn.
Although the Astros were 0-fer with runners in scoring position for most of their game with the Cubs, they had an opportunity to make up for lost chances in the ninth but fell short, losing to the Cubs, 3-2.
They were trailing, 3-1, heading to the bottom of the ninth, but Mark Loretta, facing Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, provided a glimmer of hope when he bounced a grounder off first base for a base hit. Mike Lamb, pinch-hitting for Ty Wigginton, laced a triple to right-center, scoring pinch-runner Josh Anderson.
With a runner on third and nobody out, the Astros were pretty confident about their chances to at least tie this game. But Luke Scott grounded weakly to third, freezing Lamb in his tracks. And after Orlando Palmeiro drew a walk, Eric Munson grounded to first and was beaten by less than a step on the 3-6-1 game-ending double play.
The execution needed to be perfect, but Munson called it a routine double play ball and blamed himself for not being fast enough.
"You hit a ground ball right to the first baseman, he almost has to drop it to not turn a double play," Munson said. "We had nobody out, tying run on third. Just couldn't get it done."
"We had a shot at it," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We had four pretty good left-handed hitters coming up against Dempster. Lamb comes through, Palmeiro did what he has to do. I thought it was a pretty good opportunity right there. Anything but a ground ball right there, we have at least a tie and still have a chance to win it."
This was hardly a banner night for several usually reliable Astros players. Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee combined to go 1-for-8, the Astros stranded too many baserunners and Hunter Pence's aggressiveness, normally a welcome spark on this team, got him in a bit of trouble.
Pence singled off Bob Howry with one out in the eighth, and Craig Biggio followed with a base hit to left. Pence, noticing that Alfonso Soriano briefly bobbled the ball, attempted to take third, but Soriano threw to Aramis Ramirez to nab Pence by a hair. Berkman kept the inning going with a base hit that dribbled just past the mound, but Carlos Lee flew to center to end the threat.
"When it was hit, it was kind of down the line," Pence said of Biggio's hit. "I was wanting to see if I could go [to third] and I had just made the decision to stop. I didn't think I had a chance. Then I saw him bobble the ball, so when I saw that I tried to start it back up again. And when you hesitate, you come up a little short."
Cooper wasn't pleased with the outcome, but he was careful not to admonish Pence too much for being a bit to exuberant in that situation.
"I can live with that," Cooper said. "We're going to talk about it, because it's not the time to do it, with the big boys coming up. I thought he was a little bit overly aggressive, but I don't want to take it all away and all of a sudden you've got a guy afraid to take a chance.
"You've got to keep that aggressiveness. There's times when you can do it. The only problem he really had is he stopped. If he kept running, he makes it easy."
Pence also wasn't pleased with his judgment on a Cliff Floyd line drive hit in the fourth that sailed past the center fielder for a triple.
"He hit it low, I misjudged it," Pence said. "Whenever I saw it off the bat, I felt like I was going to come in and dive for it. The ball just started rising. Once I made that step in, it was over my head. Tough play, but I've just got to give it another second before I make my read."
One bright spot in this loss was the performance of starting pitcher Matt Albers, who recovered from an abysmal start in his previous outing in Milwaukee to pitch well on this night against the Cubs. The rookie right-hander allowed three runs over six innings, walking one and striking out three.
"It was very good," Cooper said. "I went up to him twice and told him it was a real good outing, a solid performance. I went back to him a second time and kind of whispered in his ear, 'Hey, these are the kinds of performances we're looking for. You do this, you're going to be successful.'"
"It was nice," Albers said. "Coop's a pretty straight-up guy with me and I definitely appreciate that."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.