Astros fall after stirring comeback
Berkman's ninth homer helps erase five-run deficit
HOUSTON -- Nelson Cruz's home run in the 10th inning off LaTroy Hawkins spoiled what looked like an amazing comeback in the opening game of the Lone Star Series, as the Astros suffered a 6-5 loss to the Rangers on Friday.
After Russ Ortiz and Chris Sampson had shut the door on the Rangers' bats in the previous three innings, allowing just one hit and two baserunners, Cruz finally broke through against the Astros bullpen, sending Hawkins' 1-0 fastball over the right-center-field wall for the deciding run.
Lance Berkman singled with two outs in the bottom half of the 10th, but Rangers closer Frank Francisco struck out Jason Michaels looking to end the game.
"Our team did a good job coming back from being five down, but we still have to put up a zero and keep the other team from scoring," Hawkins said. "If I go put up a zero, it keeps us in the ballgame."
After being held down by the Rangers' rookie left-handed starter, Derek Holland, who was making his first career Major League start, the Astros bats finally came to life in the sixth inning. Berkman capped a two-out rally with a three-run home run to pull the Astros within 5-3.
"We hadn't gotten a whole lot against that young pitcher, so I think it gave us a little spark," Berkman said about his home run. "We had some opportunities to close them out, but we weren't able to do it."
An inning later, RBI singles by Geoff Blum and Michael Bourn knotted the score at 5. Bourn's single in the seventh was his third straight hit in the game.
The Astros had a chance to take the lead in the eighth. With runners on first and second with one out after singles by Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada hit a ground ball towards the hole in between short and third, but a nifty backhand stop and throw to second by Elvis Andrus started an inning-ending double play.
"We faced a pretty good-looking left-hander," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I thought he [pitched] really well and didn't give us much. It was a great effort from him and from our club. We kept battling and gave ourselves a chance. We had first and second with one out and all we needed was a base hit, but we just didn't get it."
The Astros came into the game hitting .303 against left-handers this season, but were unable to put together any success early at the plate against the Rangers' rookie hurler, scraping together only two hits in the first five innings.
Holland retired the Astros' first two hitters in the sixth before Bourn and Kazuo Matsui put together back-to-back singles, setting up Berkman's ninth home run of the year, a blast that hit the lighting fixture in left field.
The Astros did not have a runner reach scoring position until the fourth inning and didn't put multiple runners on until the singles by Bourn and Matsui in the sixth.
Pitching on nine days' rest, Felipe Paulino kept the Astros in the game, allowing four runs over 5 1/3 innings. It was the fourth time in five starts that Paulino has allowed four earned runs or less, and Cooper said his pitcher has "deserved a better fate" for his performances of late.
Paulino gave up two runs in the second, allowing three consecutive singles to Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Andruw Jones with two outs and surrendered another run in the fourth, giving up a solo home run to Andrus that put the Rangers up, 3-0.
"It was a little difficult for me today, because I think I felt a little too aggressive," Paulino said. "I tried to calm down at times, because when you're too aggressive, it doesn't end well."
Wesley Wright relieved Paulino in the sixth and was greeted rudely by Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit the first pitch from Wright over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and a 5-0 lead.
Sampson threw scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, striking out two before giving way to Hawkins in the 10th.
"We needed someone to step up and [Sampson] has done a pretty good job of that of late, and Russ was good tonight too, so it was good to see those guys step up," Cooper said. "We're going to need that, because we're missing some pieces out there and tonight they did a good job of it."
Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.