As magnificent and mind-bending as the Astros recent run of wins has been, there was something that everyone here in Houston forgot to watch: our neighbors up north. And just as the Astros were 13-6 since April 25 coming into Friday’s night game versus the Rangers, the Rangers also were 13-6. And while the Astros had won four straight series, the Rangers had won six straight. And just like Lance Berkman was killing the ball, hitting every pitch that came close to the plate, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers was also hitting everything in sight.
So what happens when two teams on a roll come into contact? Well, one of those teams gets shoved backwards. And this time, that team was the Astros.
The good news to come out of Friday night’s game was that Shawn Chacon set the major league record by getting no-decision in nine straight starts to start the season. Of course, if ever there’s a game Chacon deserved to lose, it was Friday’s night. He went 3.1 innings on Friday, giving up six hits (three homers) and eight runs (five earned). But, somehow, the Astros were able to get back into the game and, after seven innings, the game was tied 8-8.
The Rangers would score two runs off of Wesley Wright in the seventh to go up 10-8, then Cecil Cooper decided to press his luck by going to Oscar Villarreal for the eighth inning. And Villarreal held the Rangers down, allowing them only six runs on six hits, including three home runs, and the Astros would lose 16-8.
The Astros actually led for a bit on Saturday, before Milton Bradley hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first to put the Rangers up 2-1. Then Marlon Byrd went deep in the bottom of the second to put the Rangers up 4-1. Lance Berkman homered in the top of the fourth to make the score 4-2, but the Astros would get no closer, losing the game 6-2. But they lost more than just the game as Roy Oswalt possibly injured his groin and left the game early.
The Astros took the lead on Sunday, leading 5-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. But Brandon Backe once again displayed an inability to go deep into a game, giving up a two-run homer to Milton Bradley, then giving up a homer to David Murphy who was the very next batter, to make the score 5-3 with only one out in the seventh. But this time, unlike with the rest of the series, the bullpen actually provided some decent relief, and the Astros held on to win 5-4.
The Rangers came out of this series as the hottest team in baseball, not the Astros. It’s the Rangers who have now won 15-7 of since April 25, while the Astros are now 14-8. And the Rangers killed the Astros pitching, as more and more teams have started to do. But at 25-20, the Astros sit in third place, 2.5 games out of first. But they will be playing the first place Cubs starting tonight, so maybe we will finally discover if the Astros are for real.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
I could make more remarks on Lance Berkman, but decided to spotlight an opposing player. Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was suffering from nicks and bruises, so did not play Sunday afternoon. However, he was seven for eight on Friday and Saturday, while scoring five runs, hitting two homers, and getting five RBI.
***************** Roy Oswalt left the game in the seventh inning on Saturday, suffering from either a groin problem or a problem with his hip – the Chron’s not sure. But before leaving the game, he surrendered two more home runs, so if he’s not injured seriously, his quest for the Jose Lima home run record is well within reach. After 57.2 innings, Oswalt has given up 14 homers this season.
But if Oswalt is injured and has to miss some substantial time, then two of his teammates might give him a run for the record. Relief pitcher Oscar Villarreal has surrendered 10 home runs in only 22.1 innings, while starter Brandon Backe has given up 10 home runs in 55 innings.
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**************** It was fun listening to Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies actually try to turn this series with the Rangers into a serious rivalry on par with the Cubs/Cardinals. You could tell they didn’t believe that crap, but that they felt obligated to dish it out. Deshaies even admitted that the players didn’t think this was anything special, and that no one really cared about the Silver Boot which goes to the victor of the season series.
He finally conceded that “the fans really seem to get into it.” Then he further acknowledged that the Astros fans only get into because they drive up to Arlington to watch the games.
But the line of the weekend actually involves the Yankees/Mets game from Saturday night. Bill Brown informed Jim Deshaies that the game ended when Billy Wagner struck out Morgan Ensberg. Deshaies then asked “swinging or looking,” to which Brown responded “why does everyone ask me that?”
**************** The Astros return home tonight as they take on the Chicago Cubs in the first of three games. And remember, because ESPN is televising the game, first pitch is set for 6:05, instead of 7:05. The remainder of the games are set for 7:05. The Astros get lucky this series in that they don’t have to face Carlos Zambrano. Brian Moehler (1-0, 4.58) takes on Ted Lilly (4-4, 5.33) tonight. Chris Sampson (2-3, 6.46) gets the start against Ryan Dempster (5.1, 2.35) on Tuesday. And the series closes out on Wednesday with Shawn Chacon (0-0, 4.14) facing Sean Gallagher (1-0, 4.40). -- John Royal