Rodriguez has rough night as Astros fall
Lefty lacks command in loss; Lee's 14th homer goes for naught
HOUSTON -- The Astros can't seem to catch a break these days, even from one of their own.
Oh, there were multiple culprits in their 8-4 loss to the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.
There was Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, whose control enabled him to become the third pitcher to reach 10 wins.
There was Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, whose control abandoned him at the worst possible time.
There were Houston mistakes on the basepaths, poor execution (1-for-6) with runners in scoring position and disappointing outings from two of the four relievers Astros manager Cecil Cooper sent to the mound after Rodriguez's exit.
But if one moment summed up how things are going, or rather, not going for Houston these days, it was the sight of a fan wearing an Astros jersey bumping Houston outfielder Hunter Pence's glove as Pence was drawing a bead on Alex Rodriguez's fly ball to deep right field in the second inning.
Pence had a good chance to catch the ball, but the bump ruined it. Instead, A-Rod wound up with his 11th homer of the season.
That's the way the ball has been bouncing for Houston lately.
"I had a good opportunity to catch it, jumped up, and someone knocked my glove away from the ball," Pence said. "It's just one of those things that's out of your control, you can't do much about it. What can you say? He probably wasn't thinking, 'I'm going to knock this out of Hunter Pence's glove.' You can't really blame the fan. I had a small opportunity, maybe I ought to hold my glove a little stiffer."
It was one opportunity, and it certainly wasn't the difference in the game. But it was another example of how what can go wrong has gone wrong lately with the Astros.
After a 17-11 May, the Astros are 3-9 in June. They have lost four in a row and 13 of their past 16.
"It's tough, especially after we played so good in May -- won a lot of games, won some close games; seems like May went away and we went away," said Astros left fielder Carlos Lee, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. "It's a battle. Still a lot of games left. We've got to get closer. I think we can make a run later on."
Cooper is as frustrated as anyone wearing the brick and sand uniform these days.
"It's awfully frustrating," he said. "We need to start stringing them together somehow. We've got to dig down deep. It's a true test of your character, these times."
Mussina (10-4), joined Arizona's 11-game winner Brandon Webb and Cleveland's 10-game winner Cliff Lee among the double-digit winners.
The right-hander allowed three runs on six hits and struck out four in six innings as the Yankees won their third consecutive game.
"He definitely doesn't leave anything over the plate," Pence said. "He's got four or five pitches that move, he's not going to overpower you, he just keeps you off-balance."
Rodriguez (2-3) gave up five runs in as many innings, the most earned runs he's allowed this season. He also issued three walks, all in the third inning. One of those came with the bases loaded.
"My location was off a little bit in the second innning and third inning," Rodriguez said. "I missed a lot with fastballs. I tried to throw fastballs inside, and I missed in the middle. My curve I tried to throw, and I missed in the dirt."
The Astros scored three times after there were two outs in the first. Miguel Tejada reached on a fielder's choice for the second out and Lance Berkman followed with a base hit to center field. Mussina found too much of the plate on a 1-1 pitch to Lee and the Astros left fielder belted his 14th homer to put the Astros ahead, 3-0.
"Any time you start the game with a three-run lead it feels pretty good," Lee said. "[But] they're a good hitting team, [and it] seemed like we couldn't get nothing going after that."
Rodriguez's control problems helped the Yankees take a 5-3 lead in the third.
With two outs and a runner at second, Rodriguez walked Alex Rodriguez intentionally. The Astros lefty got ahead of Jason Giambi, 0-2, but the Yankees first baseman battled back, working a walk to load the bases. Rodriguez had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed, but he walked Melky Cabrera to force in the tying run. Jose Molina followed with a two-run single.
A-Rod's homer in the second and back-to-back doubles by Giambi and Cabrera led to another run as the Yankees trimmed the Houston lead to 3-2.
Pinch-hitter Robinson Cano's RBI single in the eighth inning gave the Yankees an insurance run after the Astros had cut the lead to 5-4 on Brad Ausmus' double in the seventh. The Yankees added two more runs in the ninth off Astros right-hander Geoff Geary, sending many in the sellout crowd of 43,409 to the exits.
"We're all frustrated a little bit," Cooper said. "There's some real good characters in our clubhouse. We'll bounce back. We'll get going."
"I think a lot of character is built when you go through times like these," he said.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.