Just when the Astros were looking their most desperate, just as they were teetering on the verge of collapse after losing four straight games and six of the last nine, just as the team's two best pitchers had been beset by injuries that caused them to leave games early, one Astro came through and delivered when it really mattered.
Thus allowing the Astros to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 yesterday and allowing the team to salvage one game of the three played against the Cards over the weekend.
That's Astros' name is Bud Norris, a rookie kept down in the minors while Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz imploded on the mound time and time again. He was finally brought up to the majors after Roy Oswalt's injury last week, and with Oswalt unable to take his turn in the rotation yesterday, Norris went out and pitched not only a gem under some incredible pressure, he threw one of the best games by an Astros pitcher this season -- it goes up there with Wandy Rodriguez' complete-game masterpiece against the Pirates on July 8.
He had a no-hitter through five innings. He gave up only two hits and no runs in seven innings. He did walk four batters, but then again, he struck out five. Of the 91 pitches that he threw, 55 were for strikes. And to top off the performance, Norris even got his first major league hit.
So now we can all understand why the Astros kept him down in the minors for so long while pitching Ortiz and Hampton. Management just didn't want the rest of the pitching staff to look bad in comparison.
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Well, that or the Astros had some kind of agreement with the Players Association to use only pitchers age 30 or above. Unfortunately for the Astros, the team has to pitch Mike Hampton tonight, and unfortunately for Hampton, he's not facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since facing the Pirates on July 6, Hampton has failed to make it past the sixth inning in four starts while giving up five, four, four, and nine earned runs in those starts.
Tonight he's going up against San Francisco's Matt Cain, one of the leading contenders for the National League Cy Young. The Astros are still without Lance Berkman, so the club that has struggled to score runs since Berkman's injury against the Dodgers now has to face one of the best pitchers in the majors. Roy Oswalt will be missing Tuesday's game, and he is now targeting a return on Saturday.
And Wandy Rodriguez, who left Saturday's game with a sprained right hamstring, hopes to make his next start, which should be on Friday night.
But for now, let's just forget about all of that. The Astros actually let Bud Norris start a major league baseball game, and he was everything the fans have thought he could be. Now let's just hope Cecil Cooper doesn't find some way to screw him up