Backe outdueled by Padres' Young
Astros' offense only comes up with one run on Tuesday
SAN DIEGO -- The Astros had no problem producing baserunners against the Padres on Tuesday night, but pushing them across the finish line was another story.
The Astros stranded 11 and fell to the Padres for the second straight night, 2-1, before a sparse crowd of 20,825 on a breezy, chilly night at PETCO Park. The Astros have scored one run in their first two games, a somewhat surprising turn of events considering the track records of the heart of the batting order.
Lance Berkman, however, isn't all that surprised. He noted the quality of the Padres' starting pitching and the vast dimensions of the pitcher's haven known as PETCO Park as two reasonable explanations as to why the Astros haven't made much noise in the first two games of the regular season.
"You've got the guy that won the Cy Young last year and won the pitching triple crown," Berkman said, referring to Opening Day starter Jake Peavy. "And the guy that the last two years has the lowest batting average against in the National League. It's like hitting off the Jolly Green Giant -- like he's handing the ball to the catcher."
Berkman was referring to 6-foot-10-inch Chris Young, who often struggled to find the strike zone. But he got lucky with the Astros' lineup, which took little advantage of five free passes issued by the San Diego starter.
The Astros produced at least one baserunner in each of the first six innings. Their lone run arrived via a bases-loaded walk from Joe Thatcher to Michael Bourn in the sixth inning.
"You're not going to see this team struggle like this a lot," manager Cecil Cooper said. "You're just not going to see it. Good pitchers will control good hitters for the most part. Tonight, they did it again."
"It does every time," Berkman agreed. "That's just the nature of the game. Hitting is very difficult. Not that pitching's not, but when you have a guy that has really good stuff, it's tough to get anything done. You can have some isolated success, but the thing that makes tough pitchers tough is all the really great pitchers know how to turn it up a notch when they get in trouble. It's very difficult to put two or three hits together."
Brandon Backe absorbed the loss after allowing two runs over five innings in an outing that was shortened when a rare scoring opportunity presented itself. Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton led off the sixth with base hits, and after Mark Loretta popped out on a bunt attempt and J.R. Towles flew out to left, manager Cecil cooper called on Jose Cruz Jr. to hit for Backe.
Cruz Jr. drew a walk to load the bases, which led to Bourn's bases-loaded walk.
Backe had a small sliver of hope his manager would let him hit in that situation, but he was not surprised when Cooper called him back to the dugout.
"I felt for the most part I was doing my job out there and with two outs, I was thinking maybe there was a chance that I was going to be able to hit again," Backe said. "But striking out twice in the first two at-bats ultimately made his mind up."
Backe was efficient through five innings, throwing 82 pitches. He stifled the Padres' offense until the fourth, when Scott Hairston connected with a 90 mph fastball and deposited it into the left field stands to give San Diego a 2-0 lead.
"I just threw a two-seamer there in hopes I could get a groundball and get out of that inning with a double play," Backe said. "He did a good job of making good contact and hitting it out of the ballpark."
Backe was hoping to throw six innings, a bench mark he didn't reach in Spring Training. That worries him, as he's still building arm strength.
"That's the main thing I wanted to do, get up and down six times," Backe said. "Throw 100 pitches. To be shortened to 81, I don't know how the sixth inning's going to go in my next start. Am I going to tire out? I don't know. I want to get there. I haven't yet. That's what's more disturbing than anything."
While the Astros were disappointed with the results of the first two games, few sounded concerned about the lack of offensive production.
"That's just a coincidence," Bourn said. "I think we'll break out of it sooner or later. Once we do, everything will click. It won't take too much longer. Our pitching has done a great job, holding them to two and three runs a game. That's all you can ask for."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.