Astros Miss Chances Late, Nipped By Nats

Wieters: Game-winning shot
(c) Associated Press
The offensive funk the Astros have been in this month continued Tuesday night although you wouldn't have noticed it if you only watched the early innings. For the fifth consecutive game, Houston scored three runs or less which is usually a harbinger of defeat. They should feel fortunate they won two of them.

Since the Dodgers are not on the Astros' schedule, this three-game set with the Washington Nationals is the closest thing to a World Series preview should Houston make it there. On Tuesday, the Astros fell short, 4-3, as threats in the late innings died repeatedly.

Josh Reddick drove in a pair of runs early with an opposite field single in the first and a carom shot off starting pitcher Tanner Roark in the third. Houston also scored in the second when Derek Fisher slapped one through the shifted infield to plate Carlos Beltran. Three runs in three innings - this looked promising.

But the Nationals struck back quickly. Howie Kendrick, the former Angel, drilled a two-run triple over George Springer's head in the third then Matt Wieters, the former Oriole, took a fat pitch from Charlie Morton and sent it over Tal's (um) Wall for the game-winner.

It was 4-3 and the game was not even half over. But both bullpens hung tough. The Astros tossed three scoreless frames to give them a season-high 10-2/3rd consecutive scoreless innings. Chris Devenski and Luke Gregerson had the honors Tuesday.

The Nats struggled but managed to come through when it mattered. In the seventh, the Astros put two aboard with one out but Joe Blanton retired Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve to snuff the rally.

In the eighth, Houston loaded the bases with one out (can you say "situational hitting"?) but instead Brandon Kintzler, the former Twin, coaxed a controversial 5-4-3 double play out of Max Stassi to end the inning. It was controversial because Danny Murphy, the second baseman on the play, bobbled and double-clutched his throw to first which the umpire concluded was still in time to nip the catcher at the bag.

Sean Doolittle, the former Oakland lefty, worked the ninth for the save. If Kintzler and Doolittle sound familiar, they were two relievers the Nationals picked up in deadline deals to bolster their bullpen, apparently striking before Houston's front office was ready to pull the trigger.

Houston will send Mike Fiers (7-8) to start Wednesday's 7:10 Central contest in hopes of ending their two-game losing streak. The Nationals counter with righthander Edwin Jackson (4-2). Fiers has been in a funk of late, dropping four of his past five starts.

- Bob Hulsey