Astros, Reds Ramp Up Epic Battle for Fifth in NL Central

After three innings last night, the Houston Astros were beating the Cincinnati Reds 5-4. Both Roy Oswalt and Reds starter Johnny Cueto were struggling, and since both teams had been abusing their bullpens for the past week or so, it looked as if Oswalt and Cueto would have to just eat the innings and let their ERAs take the hit. Only a funny thing happened – both pitchers settled down, and with the departure of Oswalt after five innings and Cueto after seven innings, the score was still 5-4, Astros.

New Caney’s Adam Dunn almost put the Reds in the lead in the top of the eighth inning with a blast to deep center field that Darin Erstad hauled in just short of the fence. (Dunn liked deep center field last night – he hit a third-inning grand slam off of the top of the fence in deep center to put the Reds up 4-3.) And in the ninth inning, Cecil Cooper called for closer Jose Valverde to come in and end the game. Amazingly, Valverde held on and got the save.

The Astros have now won three of their last four games and have improved their record to 49-56. This was also the Astros' seventh straight victory over the Reds, and the two teams are now in a virtual tie for fifth place in the NL Central. Both are just ahead of the last place Pittsburgh Pirates.

The battle for last place continues tonight as surprise Astros ace Brian Moehler (5-4, 4.45) takes on Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo (9-7, 5.60). Arroyo, who got off to an awful start, has won five straight games.

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SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:

OK, readers, can someone help me out here? I missed something. Why were the Astros wearing their alternate home uniforms? Not that I’m complaining, because as I’ve said in the past, I like those unis. I was just wondering if Brownie and Deshaies gave some kind of explanation.

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Oh please, please, please, let this Jose de Jesus Ortiz blog post be true. Please, please let it be true that the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers are so desperate that they’re in talks with the Astros about acquiring Miguel Tejada. The guy is a steroid user who hasn’t hit since April, lied about his age, is under a Justice Department investigation, and is still under contract for another year.

I don’t know why anybody would be interested in this guy, but if someone wants him, I say pull the trigger on the trade. I don’t care what the Red Sox or Tigers are offering – take it.

(But really, someone help me out. Why would any team want Tejada with all of this hanging over him? Mark Loretta’s a clean guy with no controversy attached to his name who can play anywhere as well as hit and get on base. He’s the guy I would be asking for as a short-term rental, not Tejada.)

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Did you guys see Joel Osteen and Drayton McLane chatting with each other during the game? That can’t be a good thing. I’m sure they were sharing tips on milking the suckers for money. And I’ve got to say, those two sure know how to milk the cash out of suckers.

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To make way for Roy Oswalt on the roster, the Astros sent Runelvys Hernandez back down to Round Rock. Our pitching down in the minors must be bad, because I can’t understand why this guy hasn’t just been designated for assignment. He’s been essentially useless in every game in which he’s appeared for the Astros. Yet you just know that if a starter is needed for the Astros anytime soon, Hernandez will be the guy they call.

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Our depressing stat of the night comes courtesy of Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies, which means they probably got it from the Astros stat sheet. But Lance Berkman has yet to hit a home run in July – he’s got two more games to take care of this problem. That’s another reason that Tejada has to go – he’s not hitting either, and I think he’s rubbing off on Berkman.

Speaking of home runs, last night Geoff Blum hit his third homer in two days. But Blum, who has been starting regularly, may be on his way back to the bench as Cecil Cooper gets Mark Loretta some playing time. But instead of benching Blum, who I’ll take at third over Wigginton any day, I think that Kaz Matsui and Miguel Tejada need a lot more bench time so that Loretta can play.

And the Darin Erstad experiment is also at an end as it appears that Michael Bourn will be returning to the starting lineup tomorrow night. That’s good for Bourn, who was getting hot, but it’s bad for me as I like Erstad in the lineup. I would bench Carlos Lee fulltime in favor of Erstad, but I seem to be the only person in the world who likes that idea. -- John Royal

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