Well-supported Rodriguez stifles Twins
Astros score three runs in first and never look back
MINNEAPOLIS -- Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was still favoring some soreness on his left side on Sunday after being struck by a teammate's line drive during batting practice a day earlier.
Not quite sure how the injury was going to affect his start against the Twins, Rodriguez threw about 10 or 15 pitches off the bullpen mound about an hour before the game started and proclaimed himself healthy enough to pitch.
"When I threw the first five, I said, 'Hey, I can pitch,' " Rodriguez said.
And boy, did he pitch.
Rodriguez allowed two hits and three walks and struck out eight batters in seven dominating innings to lead the Astros to their second consecutive win over the Twins, 4-1, in the series finale at the Metrodome.
"Whenever your pitcher is on like that, it's fun," said center fielder Michael Bourn, who went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and his National League-leading 24th stolen base.
Rodriguez (6-6) snapped his four-game losing streak with his first win since May 20. He allowed just one hit to the first 22 batters he faced -- a leadoff homer to Michael Cuddyer in the second -- because he had terrific command of his fastball.
Relievers Chris Sampson and Jose Valverde mowed down the final six hitters to polish off the two-hitter in a crisp two hours and 12 minutes. Houston finished its nine-game road trip to Arizona, Texas and Minnesota with a winning record (5-4).
"Wandy pitched an outstanding game and set the tone with quick outs and not very many pitches," Sampson said. "Coming out of the bullpen, it makes us focus and make sure we want to pick up where he left off, for sure. I wanted to make sure he got his 'W.' "
The Astros took two of three from the Twins and have won six of their last seven series, losing Friday's opener despite a complete game from Roy Oswalt. Houston improved its record since May 31 to 12-7 and will begin a weeklong homestand on Tuesday just 5 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central.
"We need to keep playing good baseball, that's the biggest key for us," manager Cecil Cooper said. "When we don't get good pitching, it's difficult. Most guys will tell you [that] you have to pitch well in order to win. In this series, we got three good-pitched ballgames, and that made a difference."
The Twins hadn't been held to fewer than four hits in any game this year. They were also playing without Justin Morneau, who was given the day off, and five-hole hitter Jason Kubel, who left after the third inning with an illness. Still, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't make excuses.
"We still have guys in the lineup that are capable of going out and swinging the stick," Gardenhire said. "[Rodriguez] just threw the ball well. He pitched really well. He had good stuff, good location. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the pitcher, and you've got to do that today."
Hunter Pence paced the Astros' 11-hit attack by going 3-for-4. But the offensive damage was done by the top of the order. Bourn scored both times he got on base, and Jeff Keppinger, starting at third base against a left-hander, went 3-for-5 in the No. 2 hole.
"I was brought here to hit against lefties, and I've been way more successful against lefties than I have righties, so when Bourn gets on, it opens the holes, especially on this turf," Keppinger said. "All you have to do is hit a ground ball, and as long as it's not right at them, it's going to be through the hole. That was a good start."
The first three Astros hitters of the game reached against Twins starter Glen Perkins, and all three scored. Bourn drew a walk, stole second and scored on a Keppinger single. Keppinger later scored on a Carlos Lee grounder, and Miguel Tejada doubled and scored on Pence's double to make it 3-0.
"You like to draw it up like that, but it's not going to happen every time," Bourn said. "You like to get going when you can. We got it going early, and got three in the first, and gave Wandy some runs."
Rodriguez's only mistake came when he hung a changeup to Cuddyer in the second that resulted in a home run. After not giving up a homer in his first eight outings, Rodriguez has allowed nine in his past seven.
Rodriguez issued a one-out walk in the first but responded by getting Joe Mauer to hit into a double play. He walked Joe Crede to start the fifth, but promptly struck out Delmon Young, and Mike Redmond was retired on a sliding catch by Pence in right.
"He had a good curveball working today, and we got those runs early from good offensive execution, and it looked to me he got even stronger as the game went on," Cooper said. "He's been scuffling to have real good outings, and today was a real positive from him. Hopefully, he can build on this."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.