Astros go quietly in finale against Mets
Struggling offense manages just four base hits off Figueroa
NEW YORK -- Carlos Lee's soft fly ball fell harmlessly into the glove of Mets left fielder Angel Pagan for the final out of the 2009 season. And with that, the Astros packed their bags, shook hands and parted ways for the winter.
In a season that was chock full of disappointment and misfortune, the Astros completed the season by getting swept by the 92-loss New York Mets and managed only four baserunners en route to losing the finale, 4-0, on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.
The Astros finished 74-88 for their second losing season in three years and wound up in fifth place in the National League Central, which is their lowest finish since a sixth-place finish in the NL West in 1991.
"It's turned into par for the course," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "This has definitely been one of the most disappointing seasons I can remember having here, and it's one of the few times where we've come into the last weekend of the season with absolutely no chance of making the postseason. It's foreign territory."
Mets right-hander Nelson Figueroa, who had lost five consecutive games and had never pitched past the eighth inning in any of his career starts, threw a masterful four-hitter, needing 113 pitches to send Houston to its 13th shutout loss.
"We got ourselves in position there early where we had a chance to score a run, but he was mixing his pitches up very well," Astros interim manager Dave Clark said. "He hasn't been around this long for nothing, I'll say that much. He's not one of these guys that's going to light up the radar gun, but he knows how to pitch. He changes speed and keeps guys off balance and pounds the strike zone."
Clark managed the Astros to a 4-9 record since taking over when Cecil Cooper was dismissed Sept. 21. The players have thrown their support behind him to return for 2009, saying Clark has changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the field.
"The most important thing is I managed 13 games with guys who really wanted to play, who played hard and went about it the right way, and I couldn't have asked for anything more," Clark said. "When I first got the job that was one of the things I stressed: 'Let's go play the game right, play the game to see where it leads us.' You never know. This game is crazy at times, and they did what I asked them to and I really appreciate them for that."
The Astros' 88 losses are tied for their fifth most in a season since 1968. Houston went 24-42 after sitting at 50-46 on July 24 and went 10-30 on the road in the second half of the season. Houston's 51 losses on the road are its most since 1991.
"It's really disappointing because we should have played better baseball," Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada said. "What can I say? In this city, we didn't hit the way we were supposed to be hitting and we didn't play the same baseball we should have played."
The only drama Sunday was whether Tejada would reach 200 hits for the fourth time in his career. Needing two hits to become the second Astros player to collect at least 200 knocks in a season, he doubled in his second at-bat in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 21 games and went 1-for-4. His 199 hits are a club record by a shortstop.
When he flied out in his last at-bat, his teammates greeted him with high-fives in the dugout.
"I'm really happy," Tejada said. "I thanked God a million times already for the year I had. I talked to my family and said I didn't get to 200, but I got the opportunity to get to 199. I'm happy to go back home and see my family."
Tejada is a free agent at the end of the season, and he would like to return to Houston. The Astros are going to explore the chances of Tejada returning to play third base, but Tejada's future wasn't on his mind Sunday.
"I cannot have that in my mind," Tejada said as he packed his bag for the Dominican Republic. "That's a business [decision]. I cannot say that I'm not going to come back here. The Astros are going to decide if I come back or not, but right now I'm going to try to enjoy the game the most I can."
Houston starter Wilton Lopez gave up four runs (three earned) and six hits in five innings in his second Major League start. Pagan (4-for-4) tripled and scored in the third, and the Mets pushed two runs across in the fourth with the help of a Tejada throwing error.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.