Astros fall despite more solid pitching
Crucial first-inning call goes Dodgers' way in opener
LOS ANGELES -- For Wandy Rodriguez and the Astros, Monday night in Chavez Ravine must have seemed like deja vu all over again. Decent pitching, little hitting, struggling to stay in the game and ultimately another loss, this time 6-2 to the Dodgers before 35,282 at Dodger Stadium.In nine starts this season, Rodriguez now has an ERA of 4.30, has surrendered more than four earned runs only once, and yet has just a 2-5 record for his efforts. In fact, the Astros' pitching this season has been more than anyone could have hoped for. If you were told that Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers and Rodriguez would have a combined ERA of 3.48 after 24 starts, the last thing you'd imagine was a 13-25 record. But that is where the Astros find themselves. Houston has scored three or less runs in 22 games this season, and in 21 of those games, it has come away with a loss. While this has to be frustrating for both the club and the pitchers, manager Brad Mills continues to be pleased with the way everyone continues to stay focus and battle. "The guys have been battling this whole season," he said, "and our confidence, up or down, we're going at it every game." Monday's loss might have even a little more frustrating, as the Astros jumped out to a 1-0 first-inning lead, only to see it disappear in the bottom of the inning.
Reed Johnson singled sharply up the middle with one out in the inning, and Manny Ramirez worked out a 10-pitch walk. Matt Kemp followed with an infield single that replays showed should have resulted in a forceout at second base, but Astros second baseman Jeff Keppinger was ruled by umpire Phil Cuzzi to have come off the bag on shortstop Geoff Blum's throw. The Dodgers followed with three unearned runs."It was close, but from where I was, I thought we got him," said Blum. "There is not doubt that it put us behind the eight ball," Mills said. As catcher Kevin Cash put it, "Anytime you give up three runs like that in the first, its tough" One of the positives that Mills was able to see, was the way that Rodriguez didn't let that first inning get to him and continued to battle. "He threw the ball really well. You like to see that out of your pitchers," Mills said. "Something like that happens and you can lose focus, but he really came back and did a great job." For Rodriguez, it's all about keeping his concentration and doing his job. "I saw the umpire call him safe at second, but I didn't let it affect my next hitter," Rodriguez said. "I never lost my concentration. I made good pitchers." That wasn't always the case with Rodriguez, but as he's matured, he's learned to keep his focus on the game ahead of him, rather than looking back at what might have been. "When I first joined [the league], I might have thought about it, and let it effect me, but now I make sure I have good concentration on the next hitter," he said. "That's what I do. That's my job." Catchers have a unique perspective of how a game and the season are unfolding. "You sit there and look at the way the pitchers have kept us in the games," said catcher Kevin Cash. "You feel for the pitchers who are going out there and giving us a chance to win." Not that you don't see the trends and begin to think about what is happening to the club. "We have a lot of stuff working against us," Cash said, "and sometimes when things are going bad, everything appears to be that way." As much as the Astros are feeling the pressure of wasting strong pitching, they also know that it's up to them to turn it around. "We have to put runners across the plate, but as a team, we just haven't done that," Cash said. "In San Francisco, we were a big hit away from winning those games but just couldn't get it. Something has to change soon, and we just have to keep grinding it out." Most importantly, the Astros continue to believe in themselves and each other. The pitchers know that guys such as Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence have the ability to get hot and carry the club. They have a history driving in runs. And the hitters know that their time will come, too. They just have to keep focused on the fact that it's a long season, and if they give them a little help, their pitching can take them far. "You'd like to think we'll be in situations to pick them up," said Cash. "I tip my hat to the pitchers; they've kept us in every ballgame."
Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.