Astros can't get enough relief in loss to LA
Offense unable to convert on scoring chances in late innings
HOUSTON -- Jay Gibbons' two-run home run in the 11th inning off Fernando Abad spoiled a strong outing by Astros relievers, lifting the Dodgers to a 4-2 win in front of 31,010 fans at Minute Maid Park.
Prior to Gibbons' blast, seven Astros relievers -- Wilton Lopez, Tim Byrdak, Jeff Fulchino, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Mark Melancon and Abad -- had combined to allow just one run and three hits in five innings. All in all, 15 pitchers -- including nine Astros, and the Major League debut of Henry Villar -- appeared in a low-scoring, virtual chess match between managers, Houston's Brad Mills and the Dodgers' Joe Torre.
But the Astros couldn't convert on scoring opportunities in the ninth and 10th innings, and Gibbons made Houston pay.
"The relievers just kept battling all the way through it, and it was nice," Mills said. "They got us some big outs, and they gave us those opportunities. And we got some big hits tonight. We just couldn't capitalize and put them back-to-back."
The relief work was needed after J.A. Happ labored through five innings. The left-hander surrendered one run on seven hits with a walk. The normally crisp left-hander struggled with command and routinely fell behind hitters, pushing his pitch count to 102 after the fifth and leading to an early exit.
Happ limited the damage with runners on base, however, and ended up with a no-decision. That kept his Minute Maid Park record unblemished at 3-0, with a 0.96 ERA in five starts.
"I knew [the pitch count] was getting up there," Happ said. "They did a great job of battling, fouled a lot of balls off. My offspeed [stuff] wasn't the best, but they did a heck of a job."
Even with the loss, Houston is a National League-best 19-9 since Aug. 13, and perhaps no single Astros player has enjoyed a better turnaround in that time than Michael Bourn. The All-Star center fielder drove in a pair of runs on Friday, both with two out and each tying the game after the Astros had fallen behind by a run. Bourn's 3-for-5 night boosted his September average to .367.
"Slumps are just a part of the game," Bourn said. "You have to know you'll bounce back."
"He's had some big at-bats off left-handers," Mills said. "I think a lot of times, when a guy starts seeing the ball a little bit better, he'll start hitting off left-handers a little more. He is having real good quality at-bats, and that's sure nice to see."
Since his average dipped to a second-half low of .244 on Aug. 21, Bourn has steadily pushed his season average back to a respectable .263. His one-out triple in the 10th inning gave the Astros a great chance to close out the game, but Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence each struck out, stranding Bourn at third.
It marked the second consecutive inning in which the Astros squandered an opportunity to win in walk-off fashion. In the ninth, Chris Johnson worked a leadoff walk, but it was followed by popouts from Humberto Quintero and Matt Downs, sandwiched around a strikeout from Angel Sanchez.
Los Angeles starter Hiroki Kuroda tossed six solid innings for the Dodgers, allowing one run on four hits. But he received a no-decision after Bourn singled off George Sherrill to tie the game in the seventh.
Astros first baseman Brett Wallace had the most success against Kuroda, going 2-for-3 with a double. Mills dropped Wallace to the No. 8 spot in the order, in hopes of "jump-starting" his slumping bat.
It was Wallace's third career multihit game.
Ben DuBose is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.