Wandy slows, doesn't stop, D-backs
Astros' offense limited to RBI groundouts in tight loss
PHOENIX -- Even Wandy Rodriguez couldn't save the Astros from their fate. The left-hander battled the D-backs and home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro on Sunday, but to no avail.Despite Rodriguez throwing six-plus innings of seven-hit ball, the Astros were swept in a three-game series by the D-backs, losing the finale, 4-3, at Chase Field. "It stinks, I don't know how else to describe it," said Geoff Blum after a game that ended when D-backs closer Chad Qualls dislocated his left kneecap while trying to field a comebacker. "It's a 162-game grind and right now we're being ground up." The Astros fled Phoenix after the game for Chicago, where they open a three-game set against the Cubs on Monday night. They are 1-5 on this nine-game road trip, have lost six out of seven overall and 17 of their last 22 away from Minute Maid Park. They are 14 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central and as August turns toward September seem to be dead in the division race. The Wild Card chase is no fair shakes, either. The Astros trail the Giants and the Rockies by 9 1/2 games, with another four teams between them and the lead. "It's kind of a crazy situation we're in right now," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Things just seem to keep going against us." Once again, the Astros couldn't solve a D-backs starter, as right-hander Dan Haren (13-8) held them in check on only six hits before he was lifted two batters into the eighth inning. They scored all three runs against him on infield grounders. After Justin Upton snapped a 1-1 tie with a leadoff homer (his 22nd) in the home half of the sixth, the Astros had their best offensive chance, loading the bases with one out in the top of the seventh. But a pair of left-handed pinch-hitters couldn't produce. Blum, who's been out with a herniated disk in his neck, popped out to Stephen Drew when the shortstop ranged out to short left. Darin Erstad lined out to right. "I hit it hard," Erstad said. "Wandy kept us in the game again. It's baseball. There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. It's no fun when the team is struggling, but you have to keep pushing. It's frustrating." Rodriguez (12-9) did some chirping with DiMuro about ball-strike calls, really taking exception to a 2-1 pitch to Haren with one out and none on in the fifth inning. "The pitch was right down the middle and I screamed at him," Rodriguez said. "I said, 'Hey, what's going on?' " First baseman Lance Berkman went to the mound to try to calm down Rodriguez and Cooper came out of the dugout to follow suit. Haren eventually walked, but the incident had no immediate transcendence as Rodriguez easily retired the final two batters. "I thought he got squeezed maybe a little bit by the umpire, who was inconsistent," Cooper said. "But I still thought he threw pretty good. It's a quality start when you go six-plus innings and keep the game at basically three runs, because that's what it was before we had to had to go to the 'pen." Rodriguez said he ultimately apologized to DiMuro when he batted in the sixth inning. There were no inflammatory statements, he said, no cuss words flying. "I excused myself," he said. "I saw the ball go right down the middle and that was my reaction. He said, 'OK, it was my fault, too.' " As Cooper said, Rodriguez worked competently enough, but began to fray in the seventh as rookies Brandon Allen and John Hester opened with back-to-back doubles, giving the D-backs a 3-1 lead. After Haren singled, Rodriguez was lifted. Arizona's fourth and deciding run scored on Upton's chopper off the plate to first. Rodriguez allowed four runs on the seven hits, while walking three and striking out seven. But it wasn't good enough to right the Astros, at this point. "I thought he did a good job, I really did," Cooper said. "I don't know, [the D-backs] seemed to make things happen against us. We could have gotten out of the seventh without giving any more. They hit one off the plate and scored another run. On top of it all, we've got to figure out a way to score some runs right now."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.