Astros hammer Reds for fourth straight
Seven-run fourth inning plenty for Sampson in first '08 victory
CINCINNATI -- Manager Cecil Cooper started Mark Loretta at third over Geoff Blum on Wednesday, based on Loretta's solid career numbers against Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo.
What Cooper didn't mention prior to this game was that nearly every Houston hitter had quite the track record against Arroyo. That trend continued on Wednesday, when the Astros exploded offensively for the third night in a row, piling on 14 hits while coasting to their fourth straight win, a 9-3 victory over the Reds before 16,017 somewhat restless fans at Great American Ball Park.
Loretta entered the game with nine hits in 18 at-bats vs. Arroyo, and he added to that total with two more. Lance Berkman, hitting .321 off Arroyo, contributed a base hit as part of the Astros' seven-run fourth. Other averages vs. Arroyo popped off the page, including Carlos Lee's (.304), and Miguel Tejada's (.429).
"I just kind of put some x's by those names," Cooper said. "I went down the list and then put down some x's there. There are actually a few guys that hit him pretty well. Bronson's not throwing like the Bronson of old. He's not the same guy we saw the first part of last year. He's a little different. But, my guys are swinging the bats well, too."
All seven runs in the fourth were scored with two outs. Hunter Pence opened the inning with a walk, and he moved to third on Loretta's double. Arroyo struck out J.R. Towles and Chris Sampson but then yielded four consecutive base hits, forcing manager Dusty Baker to reach to his bullpen as Arroyo left the field to a cascade of boos.
"I was keeping notes on my pad, and I put down, 'One two-out base hit, two two-out base hits,'" Cooper said. "I kept changing my number. I got all the way to seven. That was big. We've been scratching to score runs like that. The last four or five days -- all of a sudden things are starting to click."
The Astros have scored 36 runs over the course of their four-game win streak and not surprisingly, have strung together a handful of "big" innings from time to time. Against the Reds, the breakout frame involved 11 batters, with Pence and Loretta hitting twice.
"It's always fun when you get hits and score runs," Pence said. "It's one of those things where you happen to find holes that inning. We hit some balls hard after that and didn't come up with much. We'll take it any way we can get it."
The Reds' plight didn't improve much following Arroyo's departure. Mike Lincoln yielded a double to Carlos Lee, which plated two runs, and Pence drove in another with a single back to the mound. Lee scored on Lincoln's errant throw to first.
Darin Erstad, playing center and hitting second for the second consecutive night, logged three hits, including a single that kept the merry-go-round spinning in the fourth. Erstad has five hits since joining the starting lineup in place of Michael Bourn.
"That's one of the reasons why we signed him," Cooper said. "He's a veteran player, a Gold Glover at a couple different positions, a good offensive player. He's been big the last couple days, and he'll probably get a chance to play again [Thursday]. Anytime you have a bench player and you can get him in the game -- get him three, four at-bats -- it always helps."
One beneficiary of the Astros' hot bats was Sampson, who held his own on the mound while his teammates heaped on the run support. Sampson, coming off his shortest start of his career, kept the Reds in check for seven innings, allowing eight hits and two runs.
Ken Griffey Jr. knocked his 597th career home run in the first frame, and Sampson yielded an RBI double to pinch-hitter Corey Patterson in the seventh. He struck out six over an 88-pitch outing.
"He was very efficient with his pitches," Cooper said. "I thought he located his fastball and slider early in the game, and then about the middle of the game he went to his curveball. He kept them off balance."
Sampson said he worked to correct the mistakes that led to his brief start against the Rockies last weekend. The right-hander lasted just two-thirds of an inning, allowing six runs on six hits.
"My sinker was kind of flat the last game, so I was just trying to stay back a little bit on my back leg -- drive toward the plate," Sampson said. "[I wanted to] drive the ball down in the zone, which I wasn't doing the last game. I was maybe overthrowing a little bit."
Wary of letting his guard down after the Astros surged ahead by eight runs after four innings, Sampson said he mentally wiped the slate clean each time he went to the mound.
"I didn't want to let myself relax and start making stupid mistakes and throwing pitches right down the middle of the plate," he said. "Every time out I was saying, 'Come on, it's zero-zero, let's get after it.' I was able to do it every inning."
Cooper, on the other hand, has no reason to pretend.
"We've gotten it four or five days in a row now," Cooper said of the offense. "It was real good to see. Anytime you get one guy going or two guys going, it can get a little contagious. Right now, it's contagious."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.