April 2006

Taylor made

Captcsb10104301952astros_reds_baseball_cToday, the Cincinnati Reds’ winning streak stopped at six games. Taylor Buchholz gave a welcome birthday present to Manager Phil Garner on his 57th, with yet another remarkable pitching performance that ensured his second win this season, and an Astros win, with a final score of 3-2.

Buchholz did a solid job in 6.1 innings, fanning 2 and granting 6 walks, keeping a shutout until the 6th inning, in which Adam Dunn went yard for the ninth time this year, driving in the only pair of runs the Reds would get in the whole contest.

Houston launched some rockets of their own: Lance Berkman drove in two with a dinger on the first, setting a new franchise record in RBI for the month of April with 29. The previous mark was held by Moises Alou with 28, back in 1998. Three innings later, Jason Lane unloaded a solo shot. Both homers were off starter Elizardo Ramirez.

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The most positive note today was that Brad Lidge finally got a save: all outs recorded in the ninth were strikeouts, only adding up more drama to the situation, considering there were men on base. Previously, Chad Qualls had a pretty efficient outing as well.

As Thomas pointed out in his blog, few people thought possible that veteran pitchers such as Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte would fall to Cincinnati, and that the only win in the series would be responsibility of a rookie like Buchholz.

The Astros got a 16-8 record for the month of April, and there are several things in store to keep an eye on: they remain a half game back in the NL Central. So the mission now is to get back on first place. Voting for the All-Star game has started, and you know that will keep us talking for a while (I’ll tell you my opinion about that later), and last but not least: starting tomorrow, Tim Purpura can call Roger Clemens and his agents freely.

This one belongs to Harang

Captcsb10104292004astros_reds_baseball_cAndy Pettitte is not having it easy  out there. He’s had a season start that’s too easy to forget, with a 1-4 record. His last defeat came on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds 6-3, casually the second loss in a row for the Astros. This new Red Machine is streaking, and ready to give Astros and Cardinals a run for their money at the NL Central.

While Pettitte was shaky to say the least (6 ER, 11 H, 5.0 IP), Aaron Harang silenced the ‘Stros offense (3 runs and 7 strikeouts in 7.2 frames), deserving a standing ovation from the 24,873 people attending Great American Ballpark.

Captcsb10204292010astros_reds_baseball_cWhat has happened to Houston in these couple of road games? They have left 16 men on base between both contests, and adding up to a rare faux pas from Roy Oswalt (his first loss to the Reds since 2001), there’s Pettitte’s bad luck. The absence of timely hitting has been a problem for the Astros, who weren’t able to figure out Harang and his delivery.

This represents the first series loss for Houston this year. They hope to get the good vibes going once again, and that’s especially needed, considering they’ll face their nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals in a two-game miniseries.

Wandy makes a splash

Eluniversal04282006Wandy Rodriguez has caught the eye of international media with his stellar performance. El Universal, the leading newspaper in Venezuela, profiles his unbeaten record in a piece about latin pitchers, and says that he has become a breakthrough player for Houston.

The full text can be found at the El Universal website, in Spanish of course.

Midnight delivery

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Astros fans should thank God for Dave Borkowski. When the ‘Stros faced the fact they didn’t have neither position players nor pitchers left on the roster, Phil Garner had to give a vote of confidence to a man, who came from Round Rock to subsititute an ailing Trever Miller, and who hasn’t been on a Major League mound in over two years.

Borkowski wanted to make up for lost time, and was able to keep Dodger bats silent during 4 shutout innings, striking out 4; and setting the scene so Houston could beat LA 4-3 in the longest regular-season game ever played at Minute Maid Park (4 hours, 48 minutes).

Fernando Nieve had a pretty good outing during 4.2 IP, in which he allowed 2 runs in the fifth frame, via a Kenny Lofton double and single by Jeff Kent, fanned 2 and walked a pair. After that, four relievers (Russ Springer, Mike Gallo, Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler) appeared and avoided a Dodger rebellion, keeping the 2-2 tie.

The Astros took an early and brief advantage on the scoreboard due to a Brad Penny Wild Pitch in the seventh (that was how we and the official scorekeeper saw it; despite the many times Dodger announcers said it was a passed ball), allowing a run scored by Preston Wilson. It was a welcome change of pace for the new Astros outfielder, different from his pesky offensive drought. He ended the night batting 2-for-5 with 2 RBI. Certainly, he needs a few more nights like this one in order for his .227 BA to improve.

Once again Brad Lidge had a blown save in the ninth: Consecutive walks to Oscar Robles and Kenny Lofton, and an intentional base on balls to J.D. Drew congested the bases, in a script that is being played frighteningly often. Kent tied the score with a sac-fly sending Robles home.

So the hours went. Some fans took a nap, some returned home, while Borkowski made a spectacular Astros debut; until his turn at the plate was taken by Roy Oswalt instead. That meant Ezequiel Astacio would relieve Borkowski. Astacio took the win in the end, allowing no runs, despite the fact he walked two.

The fourteenth inning was once again solid evidence of how valuable Willy Taveras’ speed is. He took a free base courtesy of Hong-Chih Kuo; after that, a Lance Berkman single (and the subsequent handling of the ball in play) sent two men on scoring position. Kuo didn’t take any chances with Morgan Ensberg and gave him an intentional walk (it was obvious that Dodger pitchers respected Ensberg in a way that was reserved for guys like Barry Bonds). Wilson sent a fly to center which in the end meant a walk-off run for the Stros.

After the game there were several questions floating above a covered Minute Maid Park (it was a rainy night): How long is the Lidge crisis going to last? Is this the beginning of a solid bullpen performance from Borkowski? Did Wilson finally end his slump? Did Adam Everett had just a scare? (X-Rays were negative in the end, so there’s a sigh of relief).

Faraway, so close

Capthta11704250259dodgers_astros_basebal Tonight Astros fans were submitted to an unjustifiable emotional roller coaster set out to test all kinds of endurance. I’m not exaggerating.

From the suspense that came from watching a pitching masterpiece being set by Andy Pettitte, being excited by a Lance Berkman tater, up to seeing Brad Lidge not being able this time to erase his own mistakes, making a rare blown save in the regular season, threatening us to see more of those often.

Lidge surrendered a grand slam to Nomar Garciaparra, and with that, a Dodger win over the Astros 6-2 at Minute Maid Park.

I will confess, I’m not much into looking for statistics and references for no-hitters while a pitcher is close to achieve that. It’s our duty though, and you might call my issue a superstition. But Andy Pettitte gave us a worthy right to dream about seeing a moment of glory not lived by a single pitcher for himself donning an Astros jersey since Darryl Kile back in September 1998; or by a collective group of Kile_darryl_04Capthta10804250144dodgers_astros_basebalhurlers since Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Lidge himself, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner no-hit the Yankees in 2003.

In 6.1 innings, Pettitte gave us solid evidence  why he’s one of the best pitchers in recent years. But the magic ended with a solo home run by J.D. Drew. Pettitte would end his performance without decision, walking 3 and fanning 5. It’s a radical departure from the Pettitte we saw in his last two starts: hardly a dominating pitcher, more erratic than ever before.

Derek Lowe also knew what it was like to be clubbed in his opening start this year. That was kept in the past though; and despite the fact he allowed four hits, he was a worthy opponent in the pitching duel against Pettitte during seven frames. In the eighth, Takashi Saito came to the mound, and surrendered a solo shot from Lance Berkman, his seventh for the year, giving the Astros a 2-1 advantage.

Capthta11004250209dodgers_astros_basebal Capthta11604250258dodgers_astros_basebal That was handed over to Brad Lidge so he could take care of it and turned it into a win that could appear on the NL Central standings. But that didn’t happen. Triple by Kenny Lofton, and consecutive walks for Drew and Jeff Kent prepared the scene for Garciaparra, who shot a monster dinger deep into center field, a grand slam that would seal the game’s fate.

This is certainly not the Brad Lidge we are used to see. We hope he returns, more sooner than later; and this only becomes part of the material in which he’ll build a tough armor that, as a closer, he must wear day in and day out. 

Louisville Sluggers for Broomsticks

Capthta10304232101pirates_astros_basebalIt has been a dream start for the Astros. They are atop its Division, with the second-best collective batting average in the National League (.286), and a pitching staff with a 4-15 ERA, fifth best in the Show. Few players from the recurring cast are hitting below the .300 mark, like Jason Lane and Preston Wilson. But many of them are pretty close to that number,such are the cases of Willy Taveras (.297), Brad Ausmus (.293) and Adam Everett.

The Astros concluded the week with a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a classic underachiever at Minute maid Park, beating them at the rubber game with a 7-2 score.

Two of the main pieces responsible for such a good vibe didn’t disappoint today: Craig Biggio said hello to starter Paul Maholm with a dinger in the game’s first at-bat. The eternal Astros second baseman has three or more games in five of the last six games, and going 4-for-4 in the afternoon, scoring two runs.

Right after a single by Lance Berkman with 1 out, Morgan Ensberg shot a 2-run homer, his ninth for the season, just one short of the franchise record for April, shared by Berkman and Jeff Bagwell. Ensberg just kept on collecting more points for his current NL-leading batting average of .403.

While Maholm couldn’t solve the Astros puzzle, it was a day in the office for Roy Oswalt (4-0, 2.48), who won the pitching contest. In seven innings, the right-hander fanned 7, allowed a run and 6 hits.

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Chris Burke started the game in left field, substituting Preston Wilson, who had the day off. Burke took advantage of the opportunity and went 3-for-4, driving in the fourth Astros run in the first.

A bases-loaded walk to Adam Everett represented run No. 5; and in the next frame, Lance Berkman sent a sac-fly who got him his 20th RBI of the season.

Jim Tracy brought a total of four pitchers to the mound. You could easily this was a shaky bullpen in need of an improvement: after three hard episodes for Maholm (7.40 ERA), he was relieved by Ryan Vogelsong (7.71 ERA) and John Grabow (6.75 ERA), who allowed a run each.

The Astros had an efficient outing from its bullpen, and it was quite welcome after some dubious performances. However Mike Gallo could only survive for a third of an inning, after granting a solo home run to Freddy Sanchez in the eight. Chad Qualls and Russ Springer combined for 1.2 innings without conceding offensive liberties.

Capthta10704232110pirates_astros_basebalHouston certainly is facing one of the best starts in franchise history, a welcome change after last
season’s dismal beginning (8-9 record in its first 17 games, 3.5 games back in the standings).This surge can only be compared to those of years like 1980 and 1986, years in which the ‘Stros appeared in the postseason.

Now the Astros will start a three-game series against the Dodgers before heading to Cincinnati. Stay tuned.

The kid is all right

Taylor Buchholz has arrived.Capthta10704230200pirates_astros_basebal

In just his second MLB start, he has made quite a splash with a pitching gem carved against the Pittsburgh Pirates this Saturday at Minute Maid Park, with a final score of 3-0.

Buchholz got an immense amount of help from Craig Biggio, who scored all the runs the Astros got in the game: in the first inning, thanks to an RBI single by Morgan Ensberg; in the 5th, with a sacrifice fly from Lance Berkman (19), and finally, getting the RBI for himself with a solo shot , his second homer this season.

It was Pitching 101 being taught by the young hurler: he kept the Bucs with no alternatives: he kept a no-hitter until Jeromy Burnitz led off the Pittsburgh fifth with a single. It would be one of two hits the Pirates got in the whole contest.

Buchholz struck out 5 and ended up with a 1.80 ERA, and earning his first Win in the Majors.

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It all ran smoothly until the 9th. With 2 outs, Chris Duffy and Jack Wilson got consecutive singles, putting runners on the corners. The fireworks at Minute Maid were turned on prematurely, but it meant the end of Buchholz’s appearance, crowned with a standing ovation from fans attending. And it also meant a new save opportunity for Brad Lidge.

Lidge, who had his own share of miscues last night, was able to earn his seventh rescue of the year, striking out Jason Bay in a dramatic final at-bat.

The only sour note in tonight’s game was the end of Morgan Ensberg’s streak of 6 consecutive games hitting a home run. However, his single in the 1st represented his 17th run driven in for the tournament.

For all of those who thought the Astros were standing below a cloud of uncertainty because of too many unproven young arms in the rotation, must be interesting to see two straight remarkable pitching appearances from Wandy Rodriguez and Buchholz. They represent a solid beginning that is anything but uncertain.

Algo for everyone

R1293084132_1 No matter which media you prefer. If you speak Spanish, the Astros have a way of communicating with you, whether it?s TV, radio, the Internet or print.

Yesterday, Astros VP of Market Development Rosi Hernandez explained a whole series of new initiatives the Houston team is launching to meet the needs of the Hispanic community. Alongside Hernandez, there were several honor guests such as Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Dale Petroskey, Citgo official Frank Gygax and Astros First Base Coach José ?Cheo? Cruz.

In an earlier post, we mentioned the redesign our website astrosdehouston.com went through. It?s important to mention that the Astros is one of the pioneers in all of Major League Baseball (and all professional sports, for that matter) in launching an online venture in Spanish, back in March 2000.

Six years later, astrosdehouston.com is going the whole nine yards: It now offers a wealth of information and features, such as team news, columnists, videos, game previews and blogs, just like this one (our Spanish version is found here). We also offer comprehensive information on Minute Maid Park, from its history to directions on how to get there; we also explain how to buy tickets to any Astros game (they are all exciting, I tell you).

The website also gives you the chance to sign up for the Cronicas en línea newsletter, which allows you to get Astros news and promotional information right in your inbox, just like we do in English with The Astros Blast. There?s no easier way to keep abreast of what?s going on with the ?Stros, and to know the many offers available for fans.

Cronicas2_2 Another alternative is the Crónicas de los Astros newspaper, which is our official program in Spanish. It has 36 full-colored pages, full of original articles and photography, and at the center you?ll find a score sheet. It?s pretty handy so you can get more involved and enjoy your baseball game a whole lot more; you can also teach your loved ones the art of scoring if you already know how to do so. And it?s all free. (Yup, I?m not kidding). You don?t have to go to Minute Maid Park to get your copy of Crónicas de los Astros (although we encourage you to do so). You can get it in the days of the month?s first series with the Rumbo de Houston newspaper, at no extra charge.

The Astros have been making airwaves in Spanish since its inception in 1962, when the franchise was known as the Colt .45s. Nowadays, the Astros baseball Spanish-language broadcast reaches all of Houston through La Tremenda 1010-AM, part of the Univision radio network. Francisco Ernesto Ruiz and former Astros backstop Alex Treviño are in charge of bringing the game closer to all Latin fans. They are both quite experienced in this field: they have been broadcasting for 14 and 11 seasons each.

These broadcasts are of excellent quality, and they are second to none, compared with any other MLB broadcast, in English or Spanish. If you?re an Astros fan and happen to be located outside of Houston, there?s no problem: You can get your daily Astros fix online through MLB.com?s Gameday Audio service. It is reasonably priced and you can listen to the games anytime, anywhere. They are all archived.

Besides radio, the Astros are entering Spanish-language TV production with the new Contacto con los Astros series. Every month, fans across Texas will be able to enjoy interviews with Astros players, coaches and executives; game recaps, series previews and special moments in Astros history, hosted by Alex Parra, Enrique Vásquez and Adrián Chavarría. Fox Sports Net Houston will carry the show starting April 30, and it?s not necessary for you to be fluent in the Spanish language: the program will be subtitled in both languages.

And as always, there?ll be lots of special events at Minute Maid Park to celebrate Hispanic heritage and the immense contribution Latin players have done to the game of baseball. Bilingual clinics, the Fiesta in the Park Concert Series and the Hispanic Weekend in September are just some of them.

Currently Minute Maid is hosting the ?Baseball! ¡Béisbol!? exhibition presented by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and nationally sponsored by Citgo, with 26 feet, 10 panels and more than 40 images displayed. It?s one chance you won?t want to miss to learn a bit more of how baseball has gone outside the United States and become a way of living and breathing in many countries throughout South America and the Caribbean.

In the end, if you can express yourself en español, the Astros have available for you many different options so you can follow your favorite team, in a variety of media; just to give the Hispanic community the treatment and service it rightfully deserves. It?s all available just for you, so? ¡Disfrútelos!

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Magic Wandy casts his spell

Capttxtj10304220113pirates_astros_basebaIf there’s something we could have presumed to happen after the incident in which Phil Garner was ejected, after a heated argument with the homeplate umpire, it was that it could represent a very long ballgame for Wandy Rodriguez.

But good pìtching prevailed in the end, and Houston, despite a scare near the game’s conclusion, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2. And it only took 2 hours and 30 minutes.

  Rodriguez (3-0, 2.52 ERA) was solid in 6 innings of work, in which he allowed a run (solo shot by Jason Bay), 2 walks and fanned 4, for a total of 22 batters faced.

Wandy got some offensive help, and it all came shaped as homers: Morgan Ensberg reached a new franchise record, going for the longball for a sixth consecutive game; courtesy of Pirates starter Zach Duke, who carried with the loss. This is been a monumental April for Ensberg, who is batting an impressive .411.

Jason Lane also went yard in the sixth frame, his fourth in the tournament.Capttxtj10504220127pirates_astros_baseba

After rare efficient relief performances from Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler, the stage was set for Brad Lidge. The Astros closer had a scare and almost blew his save opportunity: after a single by Jack Wilson, Bay gets a Walk; and Craig Wilson follows with an RBI single. Lidge got away with it in the end, after a grounder by Jeromy Burnitz and a strikeout from Jose Castillo. Lidge finally broke the threat of two men in scoring position, and earning the save.

It was a great ballgame, in which we saw good moments in all aspects of the game. More than once we saw beautifully executed doubleplays from the Astros. This is a ballclub that looked like a fine-tuned piece of machinery tonight; and it speaks volumes about Lidge’s condition and resilience the fact he was able to get out of the jam by himself.

Tomorrow (6:05 CT) is Taylor Buchholz’s turn of once again making a case for a permanent spot on the rotation.