Astros can't come back vs. D-backs
In four-run hole, Houston gets close but loses third straight
PHOENIX -- The Astros recently reached the .500 mark by winning six in a row, but they're now on the verge of erasing much of the progress they made during their streak and could end a once-promising road trip with a losing record.
The Astros lost to the Diamondbacks on Monday night, 5-3, extending their losing streak to three games and falling to 3-3 on the road trip. After winning the first three games of the eight-game road stretch, the Astros need to win one of the next two games with the Diamondbacks to break even before they head to Houston to begin a six-game homestand.
"We've still got a chance to do what I thought we'd do," manager Cecil Cooper said. "I said we could win five games on this trip, so we have two to get after it. Sure, I'd love to win all of them, but we've faced some pretty good pitching."
Take Monday, for example. D-backs right-hander Dan Haren blew through the Astros' order in the first four innings, needing just 35 pitches to retire 12 batters in a row. He allowed his first baserunner in the fifth when he issued a leadoff walk to Lance Berkman, and his no-hit bid ended when the next batter, Carlos Lee, doubled to left-center.
Haren walked one and struck out five over 7 2/3 innings, improving to 4-1 on the year.
"He's a guy that is considered an ace," Berkman said. "They have a couple of aces over there, maybe three if you throw Randy [Johnson] in that mix. There's a reason why these guys are what, 19-7? You have to have good pitching, and he's a very good pitcher."
Still, the Astros had their chances against Haren, especially after he allowed his first two baserunners in the fifth. After Hunter Pence's grounder scored Berkman and Lee scored on Mark Loretta's base hit to right, the Astros appeared to have the rally rekindled when J.R. Towles was hit by a pitch and Chris Sampson bunted his way on base to load the bases. But Kazuo Matsui popped to second and Michael Bourn struck out, stranding all three baserunners.
"We had them there," Cooper said. "We had a chance to score. That was an opportunity and we failed to deliver. We've got to get two-out base hits. That's all there is to it. We've got to get some runs in those situations. We don't get that many, and when we do we've got to deliver."
The Astros had another chance in the eighth, when Bourn and Miguel Tejada knocked consecutive two-out doubles to narrow the deficit to two runs. With Berkman batting, the D-backs brought in former Astros pitcher Chad Qualls, who struck out his friend and former teammate on a 2-2 slider.
"In my opinion, he made three unhittable pitches," Berkman said. "He just did a great job. He came in and really just threw three very nasty pitches. There's really nothing you can do when he's throwing the ball that way. There's also a reason why for at least a couple years [when Qualls was with the Astros], if we had a lead in the seventh inning, the game was over. And he was a big part of that."
Cooper went to his bullpen early, lifting Sampson with one out and a runner on second in the fifth inning. Sampson had few troubles in the first three innings but allowed three in the fourth, giving up a two-run double to Mark Reynolds and a run-scoring single to Chris Snyder.
"He was fine in the first couple innings, and then he just started to get it up in the zone," Cooper said. "When Chris pitches up, good things are not going to happen."
Cooper and Sampson pointed to the leadoff walk to Orlando Hudson that inning as a key to Arizona's rally.
"It didn't help that I hung a curveball to Reynolds that he hit a double down the line," Sampson said. "Two guys in front of him got on and that walk didn't help. I usually don't walk guys. Something happened. That was a bad mistake walking the guy in front of Reynolds. I hung Reynolds a curveball, and he's a good hitter. He hits the hangers."
Said Cooper: "Our problems throughout this road trip, especially the last three ballgames, we ended up walking guys ... leading off an inning, or fueling an inning. That's something we can't do."
Since taking two games in Cincinnati and the first of three in St. Louis, the Astros have dropped two to the Cardinals and the opener in Arizona to fall back to three games under .500. But Berkman, for one, isn't worried.
"That's just the nature of the beast," he said. "There's a lot of days I'll start off in the first inning and get a base hit and you think, 'Oh, I'm going to get three or four' and you end up 1-for-4. Then there are days when you strike out a couple times and you end up getting a couple homers.
"Baseball's a sport where you can't look at it like 'Well, we won the first three games of this road trip so that means we have to win seven games on the trip for it to be a good trip.' We just take them a game at a time and come back out here tomorrow and get a victory and at least break even on the road trip. Early in the season if you go 4-4 on a tough three-city swing, you're not doing too badly."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.