Astros playing congenial host to division leaders


The Giants came to town hoping to increase their slim division lead over the retooled Dodgers. With Matt Cain on the mound for the series opener, game one seemed like a gimme. But Bud Norris went pitch-for-pitch with Cain until a blister forced the Astros starter from the game in the seventh inning. Houston was positioned to hand Cain a loss until a ninth inning failure by the bullpen turned the tide. The Rockies trounced the Dodgers in Colorado, helping the Giants extend their lead over the Dodgers to 3.5 games.

Game 2 starter Barry Zito represented the opposite end of the spectrum from Cain, who had authored a perfect game against the Astros earlier in the year. Zito has been a disappointment since signing a nine-figure Free Agent contract with the Giants before the 2007 season. Zito has failed to post a .500 in any of his first five seasons in San Francisco.

Former Astro Hunter Pence helped stake Zito to a 4-0 lead with a three-run homer in the first. The Astros rallied back and knocked Zito out of the game early but couldn’t get anything done against the Giants bullpen. The Giants hung on for a 6-4 win and the Dodgers also won to keep pace.

The Astros jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants in Thursday’s finale. Jordan Lyles gave up three runs in the fifth but Tony DeFrancesco was able to get him out of the game with a chance for the win. Francisco Rodriguez got the first two outs in the seventh but then the wheels came off. The Astros offense failed to show up for the final four innings and the Giants coasted to an 8-4 win to sweep the series.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the 750 zillion dollar Dodgers were shutout 2-0 by the Diamondbacks. The Giants now head to Chicago with a 4.5 game lead while the Dodgers continue to play host to the D-backs.

Friday night the Reds will  bring their N.L. best 80 wins into Minute Maid Park for a three-game series with the ‘Stros. Houston fans will once again reminisce of better times as the Astros don their retro uniforms for Flashback Friday. Lefty Fernando Abad makes only his second start since joining the Astros rotation and Mike Leake takes the ball for Cincinnati.

They say timing is everything. The Astros haven’t had good timing this season. Former MVP Joey Votto is slated to return to the Reds lineup on Saturday. Votto has been out since July 16th with torn meniscus in his left knee.