HOUSTON, Texas: It might not have seemed possible, but a disappointing season for the Astros took its worst turn yet on Thursday.
In the rubber match of a three-game series, the Astros wasted multiple come-from-behind efforts from their offense, falling, 6-5, to the A's on an RBI single from Jason Kendall in the 11th inning.
In addition, the Astros lost starting shortstop and defensive star Adam Everett for 4-8 weeks with a fractured right fibula. In the fourth inning, he collided with Carlos Lee when both were chasing a pop fly from Kendall. Everett appeared to momentarily have his leg caught under Lee's, and both fell to the ground. Lee said that he heard Everett's leg snap.
Everett lay flat on his stomach and writhed in pain before being carted off the field. After the game, Eric Bruntlett was recalled to Houston to take Everett's place at shortstop, beginning Friday.
Making matters even worse, the Astros revealed that starter Jason Jennings is dealing with shoulder tendinitis, and was removed from the game after only four innings.
"It was a bad day, no question," manager Phil Garner said. "It was very frustrating to lose the ballgame, and losing Adam hurts also.
"Their at-bats in key situations were just better than our at-bats in key situations. If we made a mistake, they hammered it, they didn't miss it. They had a bunch of guys hitting .230 that drove in guys late, and we didn't do that. We're just in one of those terrible situations."
Jennings (0-1) struggled through four innings, allowing three runs within the first four batters of the game on a double from Mark Ellis, sacrifice fly from Nick Swisher and a home run from Eric Chavez. He buckled down after that, but the damage would have been worse if not for Lee gunning down Chavez at home after he attempted to tag and score on a fly out in the third inning. Jennings left after the fourth and was replaced by Mark McLemore.
"It's not your ideal start, but I was able to minimize the damage after that and we tied it up and had our chances," Jennings said.
"I threw almost 100 pitches last time [in Chicago]. I don't think my shoulder was quite ready for 100 pitches, and I was a little sore the next day. I'm kind of going through Spring Training right now and building arm strength. It's part of me trying to get back in game shape."
Jennings anticipates being able to make his next start.
But unlike many other games in which the team has fallen behind early, the Astros were able to rally. They sliced the deficit to 3-1 on a first-inning RBI single from Mike Lamb and tied it, 3-3, in the third with an RBI double from Lee and another RBI single from Lamb.
After a passed ball from catcher Eric Munson put Oakland back in front in the fifth, Houston fought back again off Oakland starter Chad Gaudin (6-1), loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the fifth on singles from Lamb and Munson and a hit-by-pitch on Chris Burke. Morgan Ensberg drove in Lamb with a single to left, and pinch-hitter Luke Scott grounded into a force out at second to put the Astros in front, 5-4.
Marco Scutaro tied the game in the sixth with a home run to left off Dave Borkowski, but relievers Trever Miller, Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge shut the door after that, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied and give the Astros several chances to manufacture a run to win the game.
But after fighting back so well to tie the game, the Astros never could get the big hit to go over the hump. Their best chance came in the bottom of the 10th, when Burke singled with one out and Craig Biggio added a two-out pinch-hit single for career hit 2,985, advancing Burke to scoring position.
Mark Loretta, however, flied out to right to end the threat.
"We did a pretty good job battling back," Munson said. "We had the lead. We did a good job of battling, but we just couldn't come up with a big hit in the end."
Dan Wheeler was unavailable to pitch after throwing in three consecutive games, and after Lidge was removed for Biggio as a pinch-hitter, that left Brian Moehler as the only man remaining in the Houston bullpen for the 11th inning and beyond. Moehler struck out Dan Johnson to lead off the inning, but Bobby Crosby and pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki followed with consecutive singles to set the table for Kendall's game-winner.
"We're scoring more runs now," Lee said. "Sometimes we need a little bit of luck. It seems like a strike three call, [someone on the other team] makes a nice play, two broken-bat singles ... it's been tough."
Power hitters Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman and Lee went down in succession to end the game for the Astros. Pence struck out for the fourth time in the game, a career high.
Lamb was the biggest bright spot for the Houston offense, going 3-for-5 and driving in two runs to break out of a recent slump.(courtesy: Ben DuBose, MLB.com)
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania: Kameron Loe didn't stay long at Triple-A Oklahoma and won't be going back anytime soon if he keeps this up.
Guys who can hit .500 and work the pitcher for a walk are hard to find at the Major League level. They are almost as rare as a Rangers starting pitcher who can go out and pitch eight complete innings.
Actually, there hadn't been any who had done that this year until Loe took the mound on Thursday night and pitched brilliantly for the Rangers. His offense wasn't bad either.
Loe pitched eight scoreless innings to go with his first Major League hit, allowing the Rangers to end a three-game losing streak with a 6-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
Akinori Otsuka closed out the victory in the ninth inning to complete the Rangers' fourth shutout of the season, which actually ties them for second in the American League. Loe was a part of one on April 21 against the Oakland Athletics but that was his last victory until Thursday night.
"Kam showed us what we all knew he had," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Previously to this he never had it for a whole start, but tonight he had it for a whole start. He showed us what we saw in Spring Training."
Loe's performance came at a time when Rangers starters were 6-19 with an 8.24 ERA in their last 34 games, and he was the first starter to make it through seven innings in over a month. Loe was the last Rangers starter to go seven innings on May 12 against the Angels. Nobody had gone eight all year.
"This game meant a lot to me," Loe said. "It's not easy when you're struggling this much. I really wanted to pick my team up. They're going through some rough times and it just feels great to help these guys out and put eight or nine zeros on the board."
Rookie third baseman Travis Metcalf also had his first Major League hit, a sixth-inning home run that was one of three the Rangers hit on the night.
"That was exciting," said Metcalf, who was 0-for-6 before that. "I'm glad that's out of the way. I've only been up here a couple of days, but it seems like it has been a couple of months. It's good to get that one out of the way; now I can work on getting some base hits."
Jerry Hairston led off the first inning by hitting the fourth pitch thrown by Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny for a home run and Gerald Laird broke the game open with a three-run home run in the seventh inning.
The Rangers had not hit a home run in their previous four games and had just hit nine in their past 17 games before a three-homer night on Thursday.
"We've got some guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark," Laird said. "It's nice to get that back."
Loe, who walked and grounded out in his first two plate appearances, picked up his first Major League hit in the eighth inning. It wasn't a home run by Metcalf, but ultimately had the same result. He singled to lead off the eighth against former Ranger Dan Kolb and later scored on a single by Michael Young.
The single snapped an 0-for-30 slump by Rangers pitchers. Their last hit in Interleague Play was June 12, 2005, by Ricardo Rodriguez.
"I haven't hit since high school," Loe said. "I was just trying to get on base and see what it feels like."
Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be in pitching in Albuquerque. Loe was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma on Saturday with a 1-6 record and a 7.40 ERA but only got back because Brandon McCarthy was down with a blister.
Loe made it to Albuquerque for two days and never pitched in a game, but it was far from a wasted trip. He spent some time talking to veteran Mark Redman about pitching and he had a bullpen session with RedHawks pitching coach Andy Hawkins.
Hawkins noticed that Loe's arm angle was lower than normal and suggested that might be making his sinker less effective. That proved to be the case. Loe had a terrific sinker on Thursday, using it on both sides of the plate.
"A few guys on their team said he hadn't throw balls with that much sink all year," Pirates outfielder Jason Bay said. "He was getting a lot more sink on it, getting a lot more ground balls and he did a very good job of that."
Loe, while he was flying to and from Albuquerque, also did some serious thinking about pitching and what the Rangers had told him before he left. Loe's best pitch is his sinker, but the Rangers wanted him to work on his slider and changeup to go with it. He didn't get to use it in a game at Oklahoma, but they were both huge pitches for him on Thursday.
"I really think I found something and was able to take it into my game," Loe said. "I know when I was up here things weren't going well and I needed to get it going. Maybe something subconsciously clicked in."
Said Washington, "Maybe he's smarter than we are. All we had to do is tell him."
(courtesy: T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com)
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