Astros held in check by Lilly, Cubs
Club manages only one run, five hits in opening defeat
HOUSTON -- Ted Lilly crippled the Astros with his arm and his bat Tuesday night.
The Cubs starter shut down Houston's offense and provided a little of his own, hitting his first career triple, to send the Astros to a 7-1 loss. Lilly allowed just three hits and struck out four over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. At one point, he sat down 10 straight Astros hitters.
Hunter Pence doubled off Lilly in the first, but the Astros (25-31) wouldn't get another hit until Miguel Tejada singled with two outs in the sixth. In the time between hits, Houston only had one baserunner.
"[Lilly] has everything going in different directions and is really crafty and smart," Pence said. "Early on, we had a chance to make things happen, but Lilly held us in check. It's a marathon not a sprint. They beat us tonight hands down all the way around. We just have to come back and make adjustments."
Lance Berkman's 11th home run of the year in the ninth got the Astros on the scoreboard. The home run put him one away from 300, but it wasn't nearly enough as starter Brian Moehler wasn't able to pitch past the third inning. Moehler (2-4) gave up five runs in the first three innings, forcing manager Cecil Cooper to call on the already shorthanded bullpen early for the second successive game.
"Pitching sets the tone for everything you do," Cooper said. "We didn't pitch particularly well early. Sometimes you let them out of the barn early and then you can't capture anything, and tonight we couldn't catch up."
The Astros used five relievers in Sunday's 6-4 series finale win over the Pirates, of course that was because starter Felipe Paulino was forced to leave early with a right groin injury. They were forced to use three more on Tuesday, but an injury wasn't the reason Houston had to dip into its bullpen early this time around.
Cooper brought in former starter Brandon Backe in the fourth to try to stop the Cubs' hit parade.
Backe put runners in scoring position in his first three innings, loading the bases in the fifth and sixth. He escaped without allowing a run in the fourth and fifth, but the Cubs (29-26) broke through for two runs in the sixth with a bases-loaded, ground-rule double by Andres Blanco that put Chicago ahead, 7-0.
"It looked like [Backe] got a little tired in the last inning, but I'll take the hit on that one because I might have left him a little long," Cooper said. "He hadn't thrown in 10 days, that long. But I thought he threw the ball pretty well."
Alberto Arias replaced Backe in the seventh. It was the first time he pitched since being hit in the head by a ball in batting practice on Friday that left him with concussion symptoms. Arias threw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit.
The bullpen, which came in having not allowed a run in six of the past eight games, stranded 12 Chicago baserunners on the night and owns a 2.30 ERA in the past nine games.
"Anytime when you're facing a good team, or any team, and you don't score and the other team scores first and you're in a hole 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, it puts you on your heels," Cooper said. "Then you need a big rally inning to get back into it and sometimes that's tough to do against some of the better pitchers, and we didn't have very many opportunities to do that tonight."
The Cubs jumped on Moehler for three runs in the first innings, and it could have been worse. Alfonso Soriano led off with a double down the left-field line and scored on a double by Kosuke Fukudome down the right-field line. Singles by Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot and Geovany Soto would make it 3-0 and prompt an early visit to the mound by pitching coach Dewey Robinson. It would have been a four-run first inning for Chicago had Michael Bourn not thrown out Fontenot trying to score from second on a single by Blanco, the third straight single and sixth hit of the opening frame for the Cubs.
Lilly (7-4) scored following his triple in the second on a softly hit ground ball by Fukudome to second baseman Edwin Maysonet, who threw the ball away trying to get the runner at first.
Fontenot, who went 4-for-5 with two runs and an RBI, connected on his sixth home run of the season in the third to make it 5-0. Moehler was replaced in the bottom half of the frame by Backe, who walked and represented the Astros' lone baserunner from the second through the fifth inning.
"When I'm going good, I'm good. When I'm going bad, I'm bad," Moehler said. "I just can't seem to be consistent. I put us in the hole from the beginning."
Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.