Astros rout Reds to complete sweep
Bourn, Berkman, Blum homer to back Rodriguez's solid start
CINCINNATI -- Winning games without Carlos Lee is going to be challenging for the Astros, but as it turned out, they didn't need their slugging left fielder the day after they lost him for the season with a finger injury.
The Astros rolled over the Reds for the fourth day in a row, finishing the sweep with a convincing 13-4 win on a sunny Sunday afternoon before 30,789 at Great American Ball Park.
Even Lee knew he wasn't missed this time. In the second inning, according to manager Cecil Cooper, Lee popped into the dugout and said, "Carlos who?"
In Lee's absence, everybody else contributed to this win, including eight hitters in the first frame. Michael Bourn's three-run homer off Aaron Harang pushed Houston to a 5-0 lead, and from there, the Astros were off and running toward a four-game sweep over the Reds, which drew them to within one game of the .500 mark.
"How about that for four days of swinging the bat, getting good pitching and playing good defense?" Cooper said.
Wandy Rodriguez was perfect through 4 2/3 innings before he yielded a solo homer to Edwin Encarnacion. Still, Rodriguez was masterful throughout most of his outing, improving to 7-4 on the year after holding the Reds to two runs over 6 2/3 frames.
"He pitched the way he needed to pitch," Cooper said. "Especially after the last couple of outings, it was good for him. He kept it down, kept his fastball down. I thought he really located it well. He used his changeup a little bit today. He didn't really use his curveball much."
In fact, Rodriguez didn't use the curveball, his strongest pitch, at all until the fourth inning.
"Only my two-seamer and fastball," the lefty said. "I concentrated on my location in the first few innings. Today, I felt great. I had good location."
Things got a bit hairy in the seventh, Rodriguez's final inning. Adam Dunn was credited with a double after Bourn lost sight of his bloop fly ball in the sun, and Encarnacion followed with a walk. After Andy Phillips flew out, Ryan Hanigan knocked an infield single, loading the bases.
Cooper called for LaTroy Hawkins to face Jerry Hairston Jr., but Reds manager Dusty Baker countered with Javier Valentin, who sent a hard fly ball toward the corner in left. Darin Erstad made a leaping catch, ending the inning and saving Rodriguez from absorbing at least two more runs on his stat line.
"I told Wandy when he came out, 'You need to go over there and thank that guy," Cooper said, referring to Erstad. "'That guy saved a lot of runs today. He saved you.'"
Not one to pat himself on the back, Erstad kept his comments brief.
"Just try and catch the ball," he said.
Erstad, who will receive the majority of the starts in left in Lee's absence, logged two of the Astros' 15 hits and drove in two of their 13 runs. Every starter contributed at least one hit, including Rodriguez, who led off the second with a double and scored on Erstad's base hit.
Lance Berkman ended his career-high 33-game homerless streak with a leadoff shot in the third, and Geoff Blum followed with a first-pitch homer to right, giving the Astros an 8-0 lead.
Berkman's homer was his first since June 30, when he went deep off Eric Stults during a home game against the Dodgers. He wasn't aware that it had been that long since he last homered, but he managed to describe the drought in a way only Berkman can.
"It's another phenomenon that is frustrating and perplexing, but unexplainable at the same time," he said.
Berkman is more aware that the Astros are close to breaking even, record-wise, for the first time in nearly two months.
"You've got to get to .500 first," he said. "When you're in a hole, that's the first thing you shoot for, to get to the break-even point, and then see what you can do after that. You're not going to make the playoffs, especially in this division, under .500. You have to get to .500, and then, who knows?"
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.