Bud Norris and R.A. Dickey locked horns in a classic pitcher’s duel tonight at Minute Maid Park. Entering the bottom of the sixth inning the Astros were still looking for their first hit of the night and the Mets had yet to dent the scoreboard against Norris. Jordan Schafer led off the inning with a single to left and Brad Mills had Jose Altuve sacrifice Schafer to second. Forget the fact that a runner on first with no outs scores more often than a runner on second with one out. Jordan Schafer is the team’s best base stealer and Jose Altuve has been getting hits in bunches lately. Schafer wound up scoring the first run of the game despite the questionable strategy employed by Mills. Matt Downs delivered a two-run homer later in the inning and the Astros were suddenly on top 3-0.
Norris took the mound in the seventh with seven strikeouts under his belt, but Bud seemed to have hit a wall at that point. He just wasn’t finishing his pitches and was falling behind in the count to hitter after hitter. By the time the dust had settled the Mets had tied the game and Bud was headed to the showers. Wilton Lopez was able to get the last out of the inning on a line drive right at Chris Johnson and escape any further damage.
Lopez would be the first of five consecutive relievers that Mills would parade to the mound, each facing only one batter. I can understand Mills being hesitant to remove Norris from the game, given the recent bullpen struggles, but using that many guys for one hitter each is akin to playing Russian roulette. Every time you bring a new pitcher into a game the possibility exists that he will have a bad outing. Mills got away with it this time, but he wasn’t quite done driving Astros fans crazy.
The game was still tied when Schafer reached on a slow roller toward third base to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Once again Mills asked his best hitter to bunt while his best base stealer was on first. This time the strategy backfired as Altuve popped out. Schafer was able to steal second with Jed Lowrie at the plate and Lowrie drove him home with a single up the middle. It was the second straight day that Lowrie had plated a go-ahead run and this time the Astros made it stand up.
Brett Myers came in and retired the Mets in order to pick up his fifth save in as many chances. Myers kept the Mets hitters off balance with a barrage of well-placed breaking balls and an occasional 92 m.p.h. fastball. Fernando Rodriguez vultured his first win of the season and Manny Acosta was the loser.