Hampton, Coste push Astros' streak to four
Starting pitcher homers; first baseman plates go-ahead runs
HOUSTON -- Two weeks ago, very few people, if any, around Houston knew who Chris Coste was. But after the past two games, the 36-year-old is becoming a fan favorite.
In front of the second sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park this season, Coste came through in the clutch for the second game in a row, smashing a two-run double in the fifth inning to help the Astros beat the Mets, 5-4, on Friday. The win was Houston's fourth straight, matching a season high, and its 10th in the past 13 games.
"It wasn't the prettiest, but a win is a win," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We got contributions from everybody and they all chipped in. Coste got the big swing, and our defense did a good job for us and shined."
A day after first baseman Lance Berkman was placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Astros knew they would have to turn to Coste to help try and fill the void left by the five-time All-Star for the next two weeks.
In his past two games, Coste has done just that. He hit a game-tying double on Wednesday to help the Astros sweep the Cardinals, and then came through with the go-ahead hit on Friday.
"Obviously, in the long term it's going to be difficult for me to fill a guy like Lance's shoes, but I have to view it as an incredible opportunity for me personally," Coste said. "With both [Darin] Erstad and Lance out, they are forced to put me over there and it's an opportunity nobody saw coming, but I have to do my best to take advantage of it while it lasts."
Starter Mike Hampton (6-7) earned the win but wasn't able to complete the sixth inning. However, he did provide the Astros with a boost at the plate.
With the game tied at 1, Hampton blasted a two-out, two-run home run in the fourth off Mets starter Johan Santana, who a batter earlier had been a strike away from getting out of the inning. After the first two batters of the inning were retired, Jeff Keppinger belted a two-strike double over the head of Mets left fielder Fernando Tatis to keep the inning going and set up Hampton, who hit the first pitch of the at-bat into the second row of the Crawford Boxes.
"Anytime you can get runs off Johan and take advantage of him, you need to do it," Hampton said. "It's just one of those things where I happened to hit the ball off the good part of the bat, and the short porch helped, too. I thought it was probably a little more up than what he wanted, but I was able to stay back long enough to hit his changeup."
Hampton's long ball marked the second time an Astros pitcher has gone deep this season, as Saturday starter Russ Ortiz homered on May 19 at Minute Maid Park against Milwaukee. It was Hampton's first home run since May 8, 2005 -- which came against Houston, while he was with Atlanta -- and the 16th of his career, placing him second among active pitchers behind Carlos Zambrano (19).
On the mound, the left-handed Hampton wasn't as effective, but he left with a one-run lead after tossing 5 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and striking out seven.
"I thought Mike pitched OK," Cooper said. "After the first couple of hitters, he got the double-play balls and then got into the second and third and was cruising along. In the sixth, he just started to struggle, and got the one pitch up that led to the home run and he walks the pitcher, but besides that he threw the ball OK."
Houston's two-run advantage following Hampton's home run was short-lived. The Mets scored twice in the fifth with two outs, getting a run-scoring double by Luis Castillo and an RBI single by Jeff Francoeur to tie the game at 3.
Omir Santos homered off Hampton in the sixth to pull the Mets to within 5-4. Houston's bullpen would hold off the Mets over the next three innings.
In the seventh, reliever Alberto Arias was helped out by right fielder Hunter Pence, who preserved a one-run lead by throwing out Francoeur at the plate attempting to score. LaTroy Hawkins worked out of the eighth inning despite allowing two baserunners, and closer Jose Valverde worked a flawless ninth, earning his 11th save of the season.
"It was tough, because Santos hit that home run and you felt like a couple of times we were right there," Francoeur said. "It's one of those things that we could never get that hit."
Santana entered the game with a scoreless streak of 15 innings, and he had dominated the Astros in three career appearances prior to Friday, owning a 0.98 ERA. Houston wasn't fazed, though, and it didn't take long to snap his scoreless streak.
After the Mets scored a run in the first, Carlos Lee broke the Santana barrier in Houston's first at-bat, looping a soft pop fly in between three Mets defenders in left-center field, scoring Kazuo Matsui to tie the game at 1. Lee's single was the third straight in the inning and resulted in his 11th career RBI against Santana.
"We had [Santana] on the ropes a couple of times and let him get away," Cooper said. "But still, I thought we had some good at-bats against him and chipped away."
Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.