09/15/08 12:36 AM ET
Trying day for Astros ends with no hits
But Houston gains playoff ground despite Zambrano's no-no
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
The Astros traveling party met at Minute Maid Park early Sunday morning to head to Milwaukee, many leaving behind families and homes on flooded streets, homes with no electricity, with no clear idea when the power will be turned back on.
So don't take the Astros' matter-of-fact approach to their 5-0 no-hit loss to Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs Sunday night at Miller Park as not respecting the history that was made. This is simply a weary group whose minds, at least partially, are elsewhere.
"I have no power at my house, no phone," Doug Brocail said. "I can't communicate with my wife and kids. Give credit to the guy. He threw a phenomenal game. But all I want is a bed right now."
Hitters, of course, wouldn't use Hurricane Ike or their travel schedule as an excuse for recording zero hits. They sent praise toward Zambrano, the well-rested Cubs ace who not long ago left a start with rotator cuff tendinitis but bounced back to dominate Houston in this "home" game at a neutral site.
Lance Berkman was even able to look at this game from a glass-half-full perspective.
"How many times can you say you got no-hit and gained a half-game in the standings?" he wondered.
Indeed, the Astros moved up a sliver in the National League Wild Card race, thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers dropping both games of a doubleheader in Philadelphia. With 14 games remaining on the schedule, the Brewers and Phillies are tied for first place, while the Astros are two games back.
And that is all that matters to this travel-weary Houston club.
"The bottom line is that's all we're concerned about now," Berkman said. "Fortunately, I don't think this one loss is going to affect our chances of making the postseason. Every once in a while, you're going to run into a guy that's just dominant. Zambrano was that tonight."
It was the first time the Astros were no-hit since Pittsburgh's Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon combined for a no-hitter at Three Rivers Stadium on July 12, 1997. Other pitchers who have no-hit Houston include Cincinnati's Jim Maloney (April 30, 1969), and Juan Marichal (June 15, 1963).
Serving as the home team before a partisan crowd of 23,441 mostly Cubs fans, the Astros were booed roundly by the crowd as they took the field for the first time and were jeered throughout the game.
"It's a matter of geography," said starting pitcher Randy Wolf. "It's 90 miles away [from Chicago]. It's only natural there's going to be a lot of Cubs fans here. It's just the way it is."
With Zambrano's bid for history in clear view, the fans grew louder with each out the right-hander recorded until Darin Erstad struck out on Zambrano's 110th and final pitch of the game.
Was Zambrano that dominant?
"No," manager Cecil Cooper said "It was a long travel day and Hurricane Ike. And having two days off. Not saying he wasn't good, but this was a pretty tough circumstance."
The Astros were on a roll after winning their 14th game in 15 days last Thursday when they finished a sweep of the Pirates and at the time, some wondered if the two-day break would be beneficial for everyday players who could use some rest.
But the layoff was anything but relaxing for the Astros, who, like 80 percent of the city, endured high temperatures and no electricity, a bad combination, especially during the summer months.
"Certainly, we were probably all a little down coming in here," Berkman said. "But you don't want to take anything away from Zambrano. I knew when he was throwing 97-99 [mph] in the first inning that it was going to be difficult to get a whole lot done.
"I didn't imagine he would throw a no-hitter. He still threw the ball great. We weren't real crisp and understandably, we've had a long day."
Asked if fatigue played a role in this loss, Erstad would have none of it.
"Those are all excuses," he said. "You play the game. It had nothing do with it. They just they played better than we did."
Miguel Tejada expressed a similar sentiment, reminding inquisitors that the Astros are still very much in a playoff chase.
"I don't want to use any excuses," he said. "We got no-hit. We have to give credit to Zambrano for what he did. We just work here. They scored more runs than we did, Zambrano threw a great game and it's a loss."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.