Backe fans eight in Astros' loss to Cubs
Fifth-inning call upsets hurler; offense musters just six hits
HOUSTON -- Beyond the first inning, Astros pitcher Brandon Backe did not do much wrong.
But when you give up two runs to start the game and your team gets shut out, that's enough to do you in.
Despite striking out eight and walking none, Backe took the loss in a 9-0 defeat after allowing four runs, all earned, on eight hits to the Cubs on Sunday.
The first run was plated on back-to-back doubles by Kosuke Fukudome and Derrek Lee, and Lee scored on a single by Jim Edmonds.
"Brandon just got a couple balls up in the first inning," said Astros manager Cecil Cooper. "That 0-2 pitch to Fukudome was a breaking ball up, and the next one to Lee was a slider up and he got a base hit on that one. Brandon held them right there. Other than that, I think he pitched well enough that he deserves our praise."
Backe retired the side the next three innings before giving up a solo homer to Mike Fontenot to right field. He gave up a seventh-inning single to Fontenot, who after advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt, scored on a double by Ryan Theriot, ending Backe's time on the mound.
The Astros' only real shot at scoring came in the fifth inning. Miguel Tejada, Geoff Blum and Hunter Pence all singled to load the bases, but two straight strikeouts -- one by J.R. Towles and another by Backe on a borderline pitch, followed by a foul pop out to third base by Kazuo Matsui left them all stranded to end the inning.
On a 3-2 count, Backe looked at a ball on the very low outside corner and started walking to first, which would have scored a run. When home-plate umpire Bill Miller called it a strike, Backe jumped up and down and had a few choice words before going to the dugout.
"I thought it was a horrible call, to be honest," Backe said after the game. "I looked at the replay, and I don't even think he saw the pitch the way he was looking at it, and the catcher probably blocked him. There's no telling what would have happened, but what would have happened was it would have been a 3-1 ballgame at that point and we've got the top of the lineup coming up with one out -- maybe we sneak in another run at the worst.
"I felt like the first inning I pitched bad and gave up two runs and gave them the lead, but I thought that was a big, big blow to us for him to call a pitch like that and to allow [Cubs pitcher Ryan] Dempster out of that inning unscathed."
Backe said he tried hard not to bring the emotion of the previous inning onto the mound with him. It was a difficult task, but he limited the Cubs to just one hit in the sixth.
"It was frustrating, especially when I'm out there throwing warmup pitches and he [Miller] is staring me down," Backe said. "You can't say anything to them. They're going to throw you out of the game if you do.
"I've seen guys miss calls before, but when a pitcher's in the box, it just seems like the strike zone widens a bit more. If that was Carlos Lee or Lance Berkman in the box, I don't know if he would have called it a strike or not, but it just seems that way."
Dempster held the Astros to six hits, striking out seven while walking one over eight frames. The win is his first in his past 64 road appearances.
"He's, in my opinion, probably the most underrated starter in the game," Berkman said. "He's got a good, deceptive fastball, and his split-finger is very difficult to pick up. He just did a nice job. We never got anything going."
Despite the loss, Cooper was happy his team took the series from the division leaders. Houston has now won two straight series for the first time since taking back-to-back sets against Texas and Boston from June 24-29.
"I'm a little disappointed that we didn't score today," Cooper said. "But hey, two out of three against the team that's leading the National League -- that's pretty good."
Krysten Oliphant is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.