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Astros-Rays: Houston Falls Into and Then Crawls Out of Last Place

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The Houston Astros had a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays coming into the ninth inning Sunday afternoon. This was the third straight game against the Rays in which the Astros had led coming into the ninth inning. Valverde had made Friday’s game interesting by giving up a homer in the ninth, but the Astros held on to win 4-3. Valverde got the day off on Saturday, and Doug Brocail failed to get an out as he surrendered three hits and a hit batsman on the way to the Rays scoring two runs to get the 4-3 win.

In many ways, this was an important game. The Astros had slipped into last place after Saturday’s loss, but the Sunday win could move them back into fifth place while giving them a psychological boost. But it was important for another reason. Because while it was the starting pitching that hadn’t been getting the job earlier in the year, it was the bullpen that had been failing the team recently.

The win would also mean a series victory, the first for the Astros since winning two of three from the Phillies over Memorial Day Weekend, a total of seven in a row. But Valverde got the job done, for once, and the Astros got the 3-2 win, making this weekend a positive for what has been a very, very bad month.

With the win, the Astros are now 5-14 for the month, with seven games remaining, including three against the Texas Rangers, and three against the Boston Red Sox. And at 35-41, the Astros are no longer in last place, and now sit in fifth place, just ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.


Cecil Cooper didn’t use Jose Valverde on Saturday night because he had pitched in three of the previous four games, throwing 48 pitches in the process. And on this, I’m calling bullshit. While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Valverde, and thus it doesn’t bug me when he doesn’t close out a game, I’ve still got a problem with not going to a closer because he’s been used too much.

Don’t give me this tired crap. It’s not like this guy tosses three innings every night. He rarely throws more than one inning. And if he can’t do his damn job because he’s tired, then perhaps someone else should have the job.

**************** Speaking of the pitching staff, former starter Shawn Chacon is a bit pissed off about that "former starter" thing. Chacon was informed on Sunday morning that he’s being moved into the bullpen and being replaced in the starting rotation by former Kansas City Royals failure Runelvys Hernandez, who is currently 6-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts at AAA Round Rock.

But as I see it, the Astros are replacing one mediocre starting pitcher with another mediocre starting pitcher. Don’t expect any miracles from this guy just as it was wrong to expect miracles from Chacon. And in another month or so, I’m sure the Astros will find another mediocre guy to replace Hernandez.

**************** Because Saturday’s game wasn’t televised, I was forced to listen on the radio. This meant that I had to listen to Milo Hamilton, who only travels to places where he’s never done a game. And let’s just say that Milo wasn’t exactly at the top of his game.

For instance, in the sixth inning with runners on the corners and two outs, the Astros went to the bullpen. The radio went to a break, and upon return, Milo told us about the new pitcher, then went on about it being 80s night in Tampa Bay. Then he described the first pitch to DH Jonny Gomes. It was only on the second pitch that Milo bothered to inform us listeners that Cliff Floyd was instead batting. Sure, it’s sometimes easy to miss pinch hitters if you’re not paying attention. But this one should have been obvious to spot. Not only does Floyd bat from the left side while Gomes bats from the right, but their skin colors are totally different.

Then there was a play in the eighth inning where Carlos Lee tried to tackle the Rays second baseman on an attempted double play. Though I couldn’t see the play, I knew the play was a little dirty because Milo immediately started defending Lee and talking about what a clean play this was. Of course, it took several minutes for Milo to inform us of the important thing about the play, that Lance Berkman had scored from third base.

Finally, Milo kept mispronouncing the name of Rays first baseman Willie Aybar. Milo gave it a Cajun pronunciation, calling him Aybear. But his name is pronounced Eyebar. Now how do I know this? I know this because Milo’s booth partner said Eyebar. As did Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies on the games that were telecast, and I’ve also heard the Rays TV guys, on games I’ve seen on my MLB Extra Innings package, pronounce it Eyebar.

**************** After a day off today, the Astros will continue the fight for the Silver Boot as they take on the Texas Rangers for three games. Brian Moehler (3-3, 4.39) gets the Tuesday start against Eric Hunley (0-0, 4.91). Roy Oswalt (6-7, 4.84) battles Scott Feldman (1-3, 2.81) on Wednesday. And Wandy Rodriguez (2-3, 2.81) closes things out on Thursday against Kevin Millwood (5.-3, 4.75). – John Royal

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