The holiday weekend filled with fireworks generally is the Fourth of July and not Memorial Day. But anyone watching the Houston Astros play at Cincinnati last weekend would swear it was the Fourth of July the way the Reds provided the offensive fireworks for the fans watching the Great American Pastime at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati last Friday and Saturday.

In those two days the Reds scored 27 runs on 39 hits and smashed nine home runs and took a two-game lead over St. Louis in the National League Central Division standings.

Cincinnati extended its impressive streak of hitting at least one home run in 18 consecutive games—the third longest streak in franchise history and the longest in the major leagues since Philadelphia also homered in 18 straight games in September 2008.

The Reds pounded the Astros’ mound staff so severely Friday that Manager Brad Mills put catcher Kevin Cash on the hill late in the game to save some of his relievers for the remaining two games of the three-game series. Houston lost Friday 15-6 and Saturday’s melee 12-2.

And as fate would have it, the scheduled pitcher for Houston in Sunday afternoon’s finale was hard-luck Felipe Paulino, whose 0-7 record was one loss away from the franchise record of winless starts. Paulino also leads the majors with the lowest run-support per game, which was right at two runs before Sunday’s eight zeroes.

The Astros got at least two runners on the base paths in four of the first five innings without scoring. First baseman Lance Berkman left seven runners on base in his first three at-bats, grounding into double-plays twice and then grounding out with the bases loaded.

Undefeated Reds’ starting pitcher Mike Leake (4-0) was mowing down the Astros’ batting order inning after inning. However, Paulino was just as impressive putting up the zeroes on this unseasonably hot and humid Sunday afternoon.

Leake reached 100 pitches after six innings and Reds skipper Dusty Baker removed his unbeaten right-hander from the mound. Paulino, on the other hand hadn’t reached 60 pitches in the same amount of time and remained in the game. He was taming the big bats of the Reds in fine fashion.

Paulino reached 100 pitches in the eighth inning, but was still throwing his fastball in the mid-90’s mph. He got into his worst jam, but Mills appreciated his effort so much he let him stay in the game and hopefully work out of trouble.

With two outs and runners on first and third, Paulino got former Beaumont West Brook star Jay Bruce, who clouted two gigantic home runs Saturday, to ground out to Berkman at first to end the inning. The eight-inning performance was Paulino’s longest stint in his major league career.

After Houston failed to get anything going in the top of the ninth inning, reliever Brandon Lyon took over for Paulino and gave up hits to the first two Reds’ batters. A forceout on a bunt attempt kept runners on first and second. Another hit loaded the bases but Lyon worked out of the jam keeping the game scoreless as it went into extra innings.

Pinch-hitter Cory Sullivan and Michael Bourne both worked bases on balls off Reds’ reliever Micah Owings before Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence made outs, bringing up Berkman again with two on base.

The Big Puma stroked the first pitch into the right-field corner, scoring both Sullivan and Bourne with the game’s first runs and ace reliever Todd Lindstrom preserved the victory for Lyon, who leads the Astros with four wins.

It was an exciting game for the sellout crowd at The Great American Ball Park and was the type of game this Korner enjoys—a pitcher’s duel. We actually planned to watch the final round of the PGA Colonial Golf Tournament from Fort Worth, but got so engrossed in the baseball game that we didn’t see much golf.

Just when this Korner is about to throw in the towel on the Astros because they really are sorry, they come up with a great game. In fact, the only two games Houston won on this recent seven-game road trip to Milwaukee and Cincinnati were outstanding shutouts by Paulino and ace Roy Oswalt.

We don’t look for Houston to come up with some miraculous turnaround or anything like that, but they still occasionally are entertaining or else provide some comic relief.

The Astros’ lousy performance the first two months of the 2010 season cannot be pinned on Mills. The blame must go to General Manager Ed Wade, who procured this ultra-weak 25-man roster, and owner Drayton McLane, who insisted the team cut its payroll 17 per cent from last year’s losing season.

It’s just a matter of time before McLane throws up his hands and has a fire sale of his overpriced aging roster. Kazuo Matsui was the first victim of his high-dollar, low performing player pool. There will be plenty more before the July trading deadline comes and goes.

KWICKIES…The Orangefield Bobcats are the lone representatives of Orange County in the state high school baseball tournament that enters the Regional finals this week for Class 3A as the Bobcats take on defending state champion Jasper, which needed three games to subdue the feisty Bridge City Cardinals last weekend. Orangefield also needed three games to advance against Waco Robinson, winning the opener Thursday 7-4 before being blanked Saturday in Game Two 7-0. But the Bobcats left no doubt who the best team was after drubbing Robinson 14-2 to move one step away from a trip to Austin. But the Bulldogs from Jasper will be a formidable roadblock for the Bobcats as the best-of-three series will be played at Vincent-Beck Field on the Lamar University campus in Beaumont starting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Game Two is set for Friday at 7:30 and Game Three (if necessary) will be played Saturday at 6 p.m. Other Regional finals in Class 3A include Lubbock Estacado vs. Burnett, Argyle vs. Pleasant Grove and Giddings vs. Boerne.

The NBA championship finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers begin Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. This will be the 12th meeting between these two teams for the NBA world championship with the Celtics winning nine of the last 11 confrontations. The two teams have 32 world titles between them with the Celtics winning 17 and the Lakers 15. The last time this series went the entire seven games was in 1984 and was won by Boston, who was coached by K. C. Jones. Pat Riley coached the ’84 Lakers.

When Houston Astros’ ace hurler Roy Oswalt started Monday afternoon’s game against the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park in Houston, he tied Nolan Ryan for third place in franchise history with 282 starts. However, Monday’s game did not go very well for Oswalt, who was ejected with one out in the top of the third inning after peering in at plate umpire Billy Hahn when a pitch that appeared on the outside corner was called a ball. Oswalt also believed he had struck out previous batter Adam Dunn on another pitch Hahn called a ball and Dunn hit a bases-clearing double on the next pitch, breaking a 1-1 tie.
Dominican fireballer Ubaldo Jiminez of the Colorado Rockies is only the third pitcher in major league history to post nine wins and an earned run average below 1.00 in his first 10 starts of the season. The other two pitchers to accomplish this feat were knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm and Juan Marichal, who both pitched back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Jiminez is 9-1 with an earned run average of 0.88 going into Monday’s action.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Lamar baseball team had to hustle during most of the Southland Conference schedule just to remain eligible for the post-season tournament which involved the top eight teams. The Cards managed to limp home as the No. 7 seed and then really came to life last week in the SLC Tournament hosted by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Lamar nipped No. 4-seeded Northwestern Louisiana 4-3 and then downed sixth-seeded McNeese State 10-7 in last Thursday’s second round and played McNeese again Friday and eliminated the Cowboys 9-3. Lamar met No. 1-seeded Texas State, which won the Southland Conference title in the regular season, and crushed the Bobcats 17-7 in the championship game Saturday to earn an automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA Regional Tournament. The Cards will host TCU at the regional tournament in Fort Worth with Baylor playing Arizona in the other match-up.

About Joe Kazmar