Astros-Dodgers: All Hail Big Puma

On Sunday, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda figured out the way to do what the pitchers for the Washington Nationals and the Dodgers couldn’t: shut down Lance Berkman. His solution was simple: for 6.2 innings, he no-hit the entire Houston Astros squad.

But by the time the eighth inning was over, the Astros, who were trailing 2-0 to start the seventh, were up 7-3. Berkman, who was shut down (for Berkman), contributed only one hit for the day. But Hunter Pence broke up the no-hitter in the seventh, then scored the first run of the day for the Astros, then further contributed another single, a double, two runs, and two RBI. And while Kaz Matsui, Carlos Lee, and Ty Wigginton would once again disappear from the offense, Brad Ausmus pinch-hit in the eighth inning and delivered a two-run single.

The Astros, who are now 21-17 on the season, continued as one of the hottest teams in baseball, sweeping the Dodgers, in Los Angeles, and winning their 15th game out of the last 20 to pull within a game-and-a-half of the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, who are tied for first place.

Kuroda was only the Dodger pitcher able to shut down both Berkman and the Astros offense for any lengthy period of a game as the Astros won 7-1 on Friday night and 5-0 on Saturday night.

The Astros are off to San Francisco for a four-game series beginning tonight. Roy Oswalt (3-3, 5.57 ERA) goes against Barry Zito (0-7, 6.95 ERA). Brandon Backe (2-4, 4.64 ERA) pitches Tuesday night against Matt Cain (1-3, 4.50 ERA). Brian Moehler (1-0, 4.26 ERA) goes against Patrick Misch (0-0, 5.63 ERA) on Wednesday. And Chris Sampson (2-3, 6.27 ERA) matches up with Tim Lincecum (5-1, 1.67) on Thursday afternoon.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS BASEBALL NOTES:

Let us all bow down before the magnificence that is Lance Berkman. Before Sunday’s game, Berkman had gone 18 for 23 and 20 for 27. He had reached base in 24 of 29 plate appearances, and he had the team record for 18 hits in a five game span.

Berkman is only the fourth player since 1957 to go 16 for 20. Andres Galarraga did it with the Montreal Expos in 1988. Ellis Burkes did it twice for the Colorado Rockies in 1996, and Todd Walker did it with the Minnesota Twins in 1998. He was also only the second player in the last 50 years to go 19 for 25 (Albert Pujols did this in 2003). And his three hits in his six at-bats on Saturday and Sunday tied him for the major league record for most hits in a 30 at-bat span – Pete Rose was the last player to do this, and he did it in 1979.

I admit that I have been hard on Berkman the past several seasons. And Lance, I apologize, and I hope you will accept my apology. You are not Fat Elvis, you are the Big Puma.

***************** Speaking of major league records, Shawn Chacon tied a record yesterday. He is only the second pitcher ever to start a season with eight no decisions. This also happened to Minnesota’s Dick Stigman in 1965.

And it’s Chacon’s performance for the Astros that has me not able to figure this team out. Come on, really, if any of you were to be told before this season started that Chacon was the team’s most consistent pitcher, that this Pittsburgh Pirate reject would have a lower ERA than Roy Oswalt, that he had pitched the most innings on the staff, and that he had surrendered the fewest runs on the teams, you would’ve probably thought the team was in last place. Instead, they’re four games over five hundred and fast approaching the division leading Cubs and Cardinals.

I don’t know how the team is doing it. I really don’t. This just doesn’t seem possible to me. A review of the stats coming into the season shows that what the Astros are doing at this moment just shouldn’t be possible. Yet it is. So maybe I’ll just stop complaining for a while and enjoy the ride.

****************** Now for reason number 4715 why the Chron’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz stinks as a beat writer. The first eight paragraphs of Friday’s game story (which is only 20 paragraphs long) are about the Dodgers scoreboard guys changing Brian Moehler’s name to Brad Moehler. Never mind that Lance Berkman was three for four with a double, a homer, two runs, and two RBI. To Ortiz, the biggest part of the game was Brian Moehler’s name being wrong on the scoreboard. He doesn’t even really get to Berkman until the 15th paragraph of a 20 paragraph story.

***************** Yes, I noticed that Richard Justice appears to be copying some of my ideas, specifically my love of Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies. And it was a good thing Justice did this when he did, because Jim Deshaies was in fine form this weekend.

Friday night, Deshaies noticed that former figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi threw out the first pitch, which prompted this gem: “Then she went to the on-deck circle to get her scores and cried.”

Saturday, he started riffing on Ventura Boulevard, which led to a discussion of Robin Ventura. And he was tossing out knock-knock jokes to Bill Brown revolving around Dodger shortstop Chin-lung Hu. “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Hu. Hu who? Hu who.” He also used Hu to move into Dr. Seuss.

But my favorite moment was late Saturday night, when Miguel Tejada dropped a pop-up in shallow left field as Carlos Lee came running toward him: “He heard footsteps, and he remembered what Carlos Lee did to Adam Everett’s leg last year.”

Overall, it was a very good weekend for Mr. Deshaies and Mr. Brown. If you’re not watching these guys, you’re missing a great game, even when it’s a bad game. – John Royal


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