05/20/09 12:00 AM ET
Ortiz homers then takes loss
Reliever goes deep after Hampton exits early vs. Brewers
By James Grodsky / MLB.com
In a game that saw Houston leave 18 runners on base, the fourth inning was representative. Trailing, 2-1, the Astros loaded the bases with one out -- on back-to-back singles by Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence after Carlos Lee was hit by a pitch -- but were unable to capitalize. In the sixth, Tejada and Pence both reached base, this time with no outs, but the result was the same: no runs.
"We didn't have enough hits in key situations," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We had them on the ropes and just didn't get any good swings when we needed them."
The defeat was compounded by another loss. Starter Mike Hampton left the game after just 60 pitches with a small cut on his left thumb, having given up just two runs on three hits through four innings.
"I glued the wound shut, but it opened up after the first and it never got any better and I never got a feel for any of my pitches, and we thought it would be safe to get me out of there sooner than later," Hampton said.
Hampton breezed through the first two innings and escaped the third after walking the Brewers' eight and nine hitters with one out. But he was touched up in the fourth when Prince Fielder doubled into the right-field corner to plate Ryan Braun from first. The Astros appeared to have Braun caught between third and home on the relay throw from Lee, but Tejada hesitated, and Braun was safe as Tejada's throw was late. Fielder came home to score on a single by J.J. Hardy to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.
When the Astros took the field in the fifth, Hampton didn't join them, giving way to Russ Ortiz.
Ortiz retired the Brewers in order then provided a pick-me-up with his bat, hitting his seventh career homer and first since July 29, 2003, when he went deep off now teammate Roy Oswalt in Atlanta. The home run tied the game at 2 and was the first long ball for an Astros pitcher since Brandon Backe went deep on Aug. 1, 2008, against the Mets.
"If they throw me a pitch around the plate, I can swing," said Ortiz. "I guess that pitch was too good of a pitch. It was up, and I tried to put a good swing on it. I'm not trying to hit a home run, but sometimes that short left field comes into play."
The tie was short lived, however, as the Brewers regained the lead after back-to-back walks by Ortiz to Braun and Fielder resulted in runs on a Hardy single to right field and a Casey McGehee sacrifice fly to center that capped the scoring.
"We had too many walks tonight, and that was our downfall," Cooper said. "We want them to pound the strike zone and keep it down in the strike zone."
Jeff Fulchino gave the Astros a chance to come back, retiring all nine batters he faced in three innings of relief. Fulchino and Cooper said the right-hander's performance was a "pleasant suprise" after not having seen action in quite some time.
"It was a little boost of confidence," Fulchino said. "I kind of surprised myself. I hadn't thrown since my last inning in Fresno in Triple-A, and my first inning I was kind of all over the place. I just wanted to come in and establish the strike zone and get a groove going, and I was able to do that in three innings."
However, Fulchino was matched by Brewers relievers Carlos Villanueva and Todd Coffey, who threw scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth.
Trevor Hoffman needed just eight pitches in the ninth to pick up his 10th save of the season, earning Brewers starter Dave Bush, who tossed six innings of two-run ball, his third win of the season.
"You saw it in the last inning with Hoffman, it's strike one, strike two, and with Coffey and Villanueva it was strike one, strike two, and that's what you have to do," Cooper said. "You put big league hitters on their heels when you do that."
For the second time in a week, an Astros player stole home.
Kazuo Matsui lined a double over Brewers second baseman McGehee to lead off the first inning and moved to third on Michael Bourn's bunt single. Matsui then stole home for the game's first run when Bourn got into a rundown between first and second on a pickoff attempt by Bush. Bourn was able to side-step the tag attempt by McGehee and slide back into first safely.
A walk to Lance Berkman put runners on first and second with no out and had the potential to set up a big first inning, but in a preview of later innings, the Astros squandered the chance to put a crooked number on the board.
"The first inning was really our inning to break the game open at the beginning, and somehow we managed to mess it up," Cooper said. "They made a mistake in trying to tag Michael, and we can only score one run. When you leave those kind of guys on and don't get hits, that's what happens. Good teams usually make you pay for that stuff, and you don't knock them out when you have a chance."
James Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.