Tejada keeps Wild Card run rolling
Slugger clubs slam; Astros four games back of playoff spot
HOUSTON -- Before Wednesday's game, Lance Berkman said bluntly of the Astros' chances to get to the playoffs: "We have to win every game the rest of the year. That's just a fact."
That may be a slight exaggeration, but clearly, the Astros have little to no margin for error. With the Brewers' win over the Reds already in the books by gametime at Minute Maid Park, the Astros knew they had to beat the Pirates that night to maintain their slim deficit in the Wild Card standings.
Mission accomplished. Miguel Tejada broke open a close game with his 11th career grand slam in the sixth frame, leading the Astros to a 7-4 win over the Pirates. It was Houston's 13th win in its last 14 games.
The win moved the Astros into a second-place tie in the Wild Card standings with the Phillies, while the Cardinals dropped to third place after losing to the Cubs. Both the Astros and Phillies are four games behind the Brewers.
"I hope we do win them all," manager Cecil Cooper said. "I said some time ago that we had to get a minimum of 90 [wins] and I still believe that. It might take more than that. I feel like we have a chance to do it."
That never-say-die attitude has taken over the Astros' clubhouse these days, and with good reason, seeing as how they've made up for five months of lost time over the course of two weeks. They're 12 games over .500 for the first time this year, they jumped over the Cardinals to take over third place in the National League Central division, and they have 10 games remaining this season against sub-.500 teams, compared to only six against clubs with winning records.
No wonder they arrive to the ballpark every day feeling like they're going to win.
"The reason we're thinking that right now is not because of hitting," Tejada said. "It's because of pitching and playing defense. That's why we're playing good baseball -- the pitching. If the pitching continues to do well, I think we have a chance."
The pitching did well again on Wednesday, due in part to a two-run, six-inning performance from Brian Moehler. He allowed only a solo homer to Adam LaRoche in the fourth and an RBI double to Nyjer Morgan in the fifth and left the game with the score tied, 2-2.
"I feel like I located well tonight," Moehler said. "I used my curveball more tonight which helped out. I tried to keep the ball down. Pretty boring stuff, to be honest with you."
Moehler earned the win after the Astros sent eight men to the plate against Denny Bautista in the sixth, starting with Jose Castillo, who singled to left-center and moved to third on Reggie Abercrombie's double.
With one out, pinch-hitter David Newhan walked, loading the bases for Darin Erstad, whose fly ball to center was deep enough to score Castillo. Mark Loretta drew a walk, re-loading the bases for Tejada, who lined a 2-2 slider off the facade above the visitors bullpen in left-center.
"I tried to be the most relaxed I can be, because I know I have the hottest player in baseball [behind me] -- Lance," Tejada said. "I have so much confidence in Lance right now, that I'm not looking for a walk or a base hit. That's why I'm taking pitches. Right now, I want him to come to the plate with the bases loaded. I just tried to get one [run in]. Just bring one in, and thank God, I hit a home run."
The homer was the Astros' second of the game. Hunter Pence knocked his 22nd of the season, a two-run shot in the second off Tom Gorzelanny that put the Astros ahead, 2-0.
"This was a great team win," Cooper said. "I continue to say that -- team win. Everybody contributes. That's how we've been doing it and that's the way it is.
"Miggy got a big, big hit for us and really kind of opened the game up. I thought one of the keys also was Hunter getting us started. Sometimes, we have a little problem jump-starting. That was a real jump-start for us to begin the ballgame."
With only 16 games remaining, Berkman's earlier claim regarding winning every game may not seem so far-fetched. To reach 90 wins, the Astros will have to go 11-5, while the Brewers need only a 7-9 record to reach the same mark.
The Astros aren't interested in math lessons, however. They know where they stand, but they feel good about where they're going.
"You can see in everybody's eyes right now -- after we get close to the race, we kept thinking we had a chance," Tejada said. "Now, we're in the race and everybody just tries to do something for the team. That's what we need. The reason we're winning is we have confidence in everybody. Right now, we think we can beat anybody."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.