Cooper upset after loss to D-backs
Astros get early lead, but bullpen allows homer to pitcher
PHOENIX -- Manager Cecil Cooper stews and seethes after every Astros loss, but he was angrier about Wednesday's game than any of the other 16 the Astros dropped in April.
Cooper called the Astros' 8-7 loss to the Diamondbacks "by far" the most frustrating of the year. "This won't go away soon," he said.
It was infuriating enough to blow a game that featured a very mediocre Randy Johnson, whom the Astros knocked around quite convincingly and was gone after four innings. But to give up the lead by allowing a home run to a pitcher? To Cooper, that was simply unacceptable.
"We can't get the stinking pitcher out, we're in trouble," Cooper said. "My goodness. Two-run lead and we can't even get out of the stinking inning. That's unacceptable, and it won't happen again, I can promise you that. You get these guys down, you've got them, 4-0, 6-2, and we let them back in the game. It won't happen again. It definitely won't happen again."
Micah Owings is one of the Diamondbacks' best pitchers, but he also has an added weapon -- he's one of the club's best hitters, too. Dave Borkowski found that out the hard way, throwing a hanging slider on his first offering to Owings in the sixth inning and watching it sail into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
Owings' first career pinch-hit homer tied the game at 7, and moments later, the Diamondbacks took the lead on an RBI single by Eric Byrnes that followed a Chris Young double to deep center.
Owings has a .421 batting average after his heroics on Wednesday. In 19 at-bats, he has eight hits, one double and four runs scored. None of this was news to the Astros.
"We extremely rarely go over a pitcher in our meetings when we talk about how to approach the opponents' hitters," catcher Brad Ausmus said. "We went out of our way to discuss him and to talk about how to pitch him, because we knew he could hit and knew he had power. That being said, he still hurt us. We were well aware of it."
"It's extremely stunning," Borkowski said. "He's certainly not like any other typical hitting pitcher. You know he can swing it, but still, for him to come out first pitch, hacking, hit an opposite-field home run, it will be hard to shake that one off."
The last pitcher to hit a pinch-hit homer was Milwaukee's Brooks Kieschnick in April of 2004. He homered off Arizona's Matt Mantei. For Owings, this pinch-hit homer was a first.
"I talked to [coaches Rick] Schu and Gibby [Kirk Gibson] just to get a little idea of what I was going to be seeing," Owings said. "They said to look for a fastball that would get back over the middle of the plate. It ended up being a slider that kind of backed up. I just put a good swing on it. What a blessing."
Arizona's comeback erased any good Astros memories of the early stages of the game, when it looked like Houston was on its way to a relatively easy win.
The Astros scored six runs off Johnson, who yielded a three-run homer to Carlos Lee as part of a four-run first inning. Shawn Chacon yielded two runs in the bottom of the frame, and the Diamondbacks spent the rest of the afternoon chipping away at a deficit that was as high as four two times. The Astros' bats went somewhat cold after the second frame, giving Arizona ample time to catch up.
"You feel like if you can score six off Randy Johnson and seven total, you should win the ballgame, and most of the time, we are," Ausmus said. "There's going to be that handful of times over the course of the year where the team mounts a comeback. You just chalk that up as one of those times."
Chacon has made six starts this year but is still looking for his first decision. The right-hander allowed five runs over five innings, but his hopes of logging his first Astros win were squelched almost as soon as the bullpen took over.
Chacon agreed with his manager that this loss was probably the worst of the year, although the Phillies' comeback that ruined his second bid for a victory came in a close second.
"You get a guy like Randy Johnson, who has an off day, and we score some runs on them, get [Johnson] out of the game early, get to the bullpen and the offense puts up seven runs," Chacon said. "On the road, against a team like this, that needs to hold up. I'm just as big a part of it as anybody else. It's tough. It's tough for the offense to do that and us pitchers not hold it down."
The Astros ended the road trip with a respectable 4-4 record, but that provided little comfort to a team that remembers only a slew of missed opportunities.
"This team's just got to find a way to win these games, and find a way to win 3-2 games," Berkman said. "Good teams find a way to win and we need to do a better job. It's not a disastrous April, but it's not as good as it could have been."
"There's no consolation," Cooper said. "Zero. We had a chance to win at least two or three other games and we come away with an even record. That's terrible. It's unacceptable."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.