Pence puts on show in hometown
Arlington native belts decisive homer in win over Rangers
ARLINGTON -- The last thing Astros right fielder Hunter Pence wants is to bring any attention upon himself, which is getting harder and harder for him to do these days.
Pence let his play be his spokesman Thursday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, hitting a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning and making a sliding catch to end the game and seal Houston's 5-3 victory over the Texas Rangers.
The win was significant for the Astros, who snapped a five-game losing skid against the Rangers and avoided what would have been the first season sweep in the Lone Star Series. And it was significant for Pence, who grew up in Arlington cheering for Texas.
"Every time I play here, it's a little special because I have the memory of coming here as a boy and growing up watching them in the stands and seeing the stadium built," Pence said. "It's something special every time I play on this ballfield."
Pence, who went 4-for-5 on Wednesday, homered in consecutive games for the second time this year and went 5-for-13 in the three-game series to raise his batting average to .326. He had about 15 family members and friends in the stands Thursday, including his parents.
"He's a great player and he's turning himself into an unbelievable player," said outfielder Darin Erstad, who was an idol of Pence when Erstad was with the Angels. "It's fun to watch. He's a special player."
Astros manager Cecil Cooper was forced to use five pitchers for the second game in a row. Brandon Backe, making his first start of the season, gave up four hits and three runs and lasted only four innings because of a blister on his finger.
Wesley Wright bridged the gap to the latter innings with 2 2/3 hitless innings of relief, and for the first time since Jose Valverde returned from the disabled list, Cooper was able to use LaTroy Hawkins and Valverde in their normal roles.
Alberto Arias needed seven pitches to get one out and earn his first win of the season.
Hawkins gave up two hits and a walk but pitched a scoreless eighth, and Valverde worked the ninth for his first save since April 26 and third of the season. He was activated Saturday after missing 41 games with a right calf strain.
"Valverde got hurt early, so we had to make do while he was gone," Hawkins said. "Guys had to move up an inning and pick up the slack. We did a great job, and we're just happy to have him back. I like to see him bouncing around on the mound up there. I like that."
Backe gave up solo homers to Michael Young in the first and Chris Davis in the second that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, and Texas went ahead, 3-0, in the fourth when Nelson Cruz singled, went to second on a wild pitch, stole third and then scored on catcher Humberto Quintero's throwing error.
"My mind was a little bit different," said Backe, who had pitched four times in relief since coming off the disabled list. "I obviously was able to think about it and go over the hitters in my head before I actually got on the field, and I was able to come up with some kind of game plan and stick with it when I was out there."
Erstad snapped an 0-for-28 slump in the fifth by doubling and scoring on a Quintero single, and the Astros scored twice in the sixth to tie the game at 3. Carlos Lee had an RBI single and Miguel Tejada scored on a passed ball, but Houston left the bases loaded.
"I was just trying to get good swings and have good at-bats," Erstad said. "It's been a real struggle, and it's kind of nice to sneak one in every five weeks or so. I understand it's part of the game, and sometimes you have to keep fighting and see what happens."
Pence led off the eighth against Jason Jennings with his 10th homer, and the Astros added another run on an RBI triple by Michael Bourn. Pence capped the game by charging in to catch Andruw Jones' sinking line drive in right field.
"I was having a little difficulty seeing the ball here on those low liners," Pence said. "It was a little scary, but fortunately I was able to get it. I've got to wear it in my mouth before I let it get by me."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.