Are Astros turning corner or are Padres just lousy?
As the major league baseball season completed it’s first five weeks Sunday, it took our Houston Astros that long to finally win a homestand, thanks to the youthful and error-prone San Diego Padres, who left Minute Maid Park Sunday evening dragging their tails behind them.
The brief five-game homestand wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for our Astros as they were first swept in a two-game series by the powerful Chicago Cubbies 6-3 Wednesday and 8-5 Thursday, before taking advantage of several physical and mental errors by San Diego to register their first series sweep of the season.
The question many Astros fans are asking this week would be whether Houston is finally starting to play up to their capabilities, or did the Padres simply stink up Minute Maid Park last weekend?
The Astros can be thankful that they missed facing San Diego’s top two starting pitchers—Jake Peavy and Chris Young.
One thing can be certain is that none of the three wins over the Padres last weekend can be attributed to the genius guidance of Manager Cecil Cooper. In fact if someone were to say that Cooper was hog-tied and tossed far down the clubhouse runway in Friday’s 2-0 shutout victory, this Korner would believe it and applaud whoever did the fancy rope-work.
Wandy Rodriguez was pitching another great game Friday night, and for some reason Cooper didn’t interfere with his success by pinch-hitting for him or replacing him on the mound after Wandy either walked a batter or someone hit a long drive over the fence foul.
The reason this didn’t happen is because Wandy didn’t walk a single Padre hitter and proceeded to retire 17 batters in a row. And there weren’t many loud fouls by the entire San Diego lineup.
But Cooper got revenge Saturday and brought in help from the bullpen after veteran Brian Moehler threw brilliantly for six inning and left with the Astros leading 3-1. The lead quickly disappeared to a 4-3 deficit, but the team wasn’t about to lose and kept battling back.
After promoted closer LaTroy Hawkins blew Moehler’s first win by combining with Geoff Geary to mess up another victory, the team refused to lose by scoring twice in the bottom of the eighth inning with some key hits and some shoddy defense by the Padres to win 5-4. Hawkins got his first win of the season, but didn’t deserve it.
On Sunday, ace starter Roy Oswalt tried for the seventh time this season to post his first victory. Cooper tried once again to deny Oswalt’s first mound victory, but the team wouldn’t let that happen as they piled up 12 runs. Oswalt gave up four runs and the relievers gave up the fifth run, but the Astros won 12-5.
Oswalt left most of his starting assignments with a lead, but Cooper’s bullpen has managed to let whatever lead they had slip away by not stranding any of Oswalt’s base-runners when they took over for him, oftentimes socking Roy with the loss.
The 12 runs the Astros got Sunday in Oswalt’s start equals the total they got for him while he was in the last six games.
Despite the lack of runs he has gotten in his career with Houston, Oswalt has had 97 quality starts since the beginning of the 2005 season, according to the USA Today Sports Weekly. This ranks third among major league starting pitchers, behind only Johan Santana (101) and Dan Haren (98).
Oswalt also has a 162-game average in his nine-year career of 17-9 with an earned run average of 3.14, according to baseball-reference.com and is rated among the top five major league ace starting pitchers along with Santana of the Mets, Toronto’s Roy Halladay, Arizona Diamondbacks’ Brandon Webb and C. C. Sabathia of the NY Yankees.
The Astros (14-17) began a six-game road trip this week with three games in Colorado against the Rockies Tuesday-Thursday and three at Wrigley Field this weekend against the Chicago Cubbies.
We should find out real fast whether this three-game winning streak is valid or did the Houston Astros merely catch a weak team playing badly. This Korner hopes that despite the injuries to players like Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail, Humberto Quintero, Brandon Backe and Lance Berkman, the team will somehow find that winning combination and begin competing for the National League Central Division title.
KWICKIES…Pro football has the 250-pound running back to use in the waning seconds of a game to run out the clock and preserve a victory. Basketball teams try to save a non-shooting intentional foul to commit on the team that is behind and has the ball in the final few seconds. But on Saturday night when the Dallas Mavericks led Denver 105-103 in the final five seconds and intentionally fouled Nugget star Carmelo Anthony. The referee ignored the push and Anthony somehow popped a three-point field goal giving Denver a 106-105 victory and an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs. The NBA hierarchy even thought the referee was wrong for his non-call, but maybe he won a few bucks betting on the Nuggets that night.
The Lamar Cardinals won their final home series of the season by taking two of three games from UT-Arlington this weekend in Southland Conference action. After getting trounced 9-4 in the opener Friday night the Big Red edged past the Mavericks 3-1 Saturday and then won the rubber game 4-3 in 10 innings Sunday. The two wins upped the Cards record to 18-12 in the SLC and 34-19 overall. The Redbirds conclude the regular SLC schedule this weekend with a three-game series in Nacogdoches against Stephen F. Austin and then head for the conference tournament next week.
Former Beaumont West Brook High baseball star Jay Bruce has been hotter than a firecracker lately for the Cincinnati Reds, crashing his 10th home run Sunday and extending his hitting streak to 11 straight games. Bruce trails only St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who has 12 round-trippers.
This Korner went fishing Monday morning with Sunset Grove golfing pal Bob Hood. Because of the 10-15 mph south wind, we fished mostly in the bayous off Sabine Lake and were fortunate enough to catch a nice mess of flounder. But on a cast by yours truly, something hit it and was running all over the place. We battled it for about 10 minutes wanting to see it surface and as Bob stood by with net in hand we saw the giant teeth of a four-foot alligator. He couldn’t cut the line fast enough. Oddly, neither of us saw the gator before it hit the plastic shrimp that he now owns.
JUST BETWEEN US…For some reason this Korner was under the impression that we were in the sports writing business for the past 50 years. But to our surprise, a daily newspaper in Beaumont claims that we’re a PLAYwright instead, after some genius with too much time on his hands decided to change the newspaper’s SPORTS section to a PLAY section.