Astros break through, but fall to Cubs
Houston ready to move on after forgettable 'homestand'
MILWAUKEE -- The past several days have caused many headaches for the Houston Astros, but on Monday, Mark Loretta served as a human dose of ibuprofen, making sure the Cubs didn't make history against his team, again.
Loretta singled off Ted Lilly in the seventh, ending the left-hander's bid for a second Cubs no-hitter over the course of 36 hours. The Astros still lost, 6-1, but avoiding an embarrassing ending to a frustrating two days against a division rival probably should count for something.
"The longer those things go on, you start pressing a little bit, just start trying to go up there and get a hit," Loretta said. "That's the worst thing you can do, instead of just trying to make good contact and hit the ball hard. That's a very small moral victory. Back-to-back no-hitters would have been pretty hard to take."
Lilly appeared to pick up where Carlos Zambrano left off the night before, dominating the Astros through the first six innings. Lilly's lone blip was a leadoff walk to Lance Berkman in the second, but from there, he was perfect until Reggie Abercrombie stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh frame.
Abercrombie sent a hard grounder to third, where the ball took a high bounce off Aramis Ramirez's glove and ricocheted toward short. The official scorer ruled it an error, sending 15,158 mostly Cubs fans into a frenzy.
Hit or no hit, the Astros chances to win this game significantly dwindled after they dug themselves into a six-run hole by the sixth frame. As the game progressed, the goals changed from winning the game to simply recording a hit, something they had not accomplished since the eighth inning on Thursday, when Jose Castillo reached on an infield single.
Loretta halted the hitless streak at 15 2/3 innings, and David Newhan ended the club's string of scoreless innings at 19 1/3 when his sacrifice fly in the eighth plated the Astros' run.
The Astros hold a distinction as the first team in history to have one hit over a two-game span, but any notions that they left Milwaukee more bitter and angry than when they arrived were dispelled by Lance Berkman.
"Seriously, even if we got no-hit two games in a row, would that have made any difference at all?" he said. "The answer is, 'No.' It's still a baseball game, [the Cubs have] two good pitchers. I know because we've won 30 of 31 games. We're supposed to show up and win a game, but that's not the way it happens."
Berkman chalked up the two-day stretch as nothing more than poor performances against dominant pitchers.
"We faced Zambrano when he's probably as good as I've ever seen him," Berkman said. "Then Lilly was really good today. That's why the Cubs are 40 games over .500. They have the best starting pitching in the league. They have the best bullpen in the league. They probably have the best team in the league, and that's why they're in first place."
Offers to use the aftermath of Hurricane Ike as an excuse for sluggish performances were again rebuked.
"There was a lot more anger in the clubhouse before we left [Houston]," Berkman said. "Once the whole fiasco was over with, we're here, we've got these games to play. There's really no excuse. We're here, they're here, it's a baseball field -- 90 feet between the bases.
"Granted, they had a few more fans than we did in the stands. The story is not that Ike forced us out and screwed up momentum. The story is we played a really good team, got two great games pitched against us and we weren't able to do anything offensively. That's why we lost."
The Astros also received so-so pitching in Milwaukee. Brian Moehler yielded five runs over five innings, allowing an RBI single to Derrek Lee in the first frame and a solo homer to Jim Edmonds in the fifth.
In the sixth, Lee knocked a two-run shot off Moehler before Aramis Ramirez singled to left. Tim Byrdak coaxed a fly ball from Reed Johnson, but manager Cecil Cooper called for Chris Sampson, who gave up a two-run homer to Geovany Soto.
"It was one of those series where we didn't hit very well and we didn't pitch very well," Moehler said. "It happens. It's over with now. We'll get out of here, go to Miami and get ready for [the Marlins]."
The Astros like their positioning in the Wild Card race and haven't forgotten they won 14 of 15 before the recent interruption to their schedule. Loretta hopes losing so decidedly to the Cubs, who had every advantage the Astros did not during this relocated series, will give the Astros motivation as they move forward to their regularly scheduled road trip.
"We've got to put this aside very quickly," Loretta said. "Hopefully, we can use this as a little bit of fuel for us. We were playing great before this, and we just have to blank this out of our mind."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.