Astros defeated 7-5 by Atlanta in two-game series opener

by Dominic Corva

Daily Cougar Staff

Fred McGriff went 5-for-5 to lead the Atlanta Braves over the Houston Astros in a bizarre game at the Astrodome Tuesday.

The Atlanta slugger collected four straight singles before launching a cannonball over the 400-foot sign in dead center field with one man on in a wild ninth inning.

Former University of Houston star Doug Drabek struck out 10 Braves (five of them looking), but gave up nine hits before giving way to pinch hitter Bill Spiers in the sixth inning.

Drabek finished with a no-decision in the Astros' 7-5 loss,

but he looked like Cy Young in the first inning with a startling changeup and wicked curves, striking out the first three Atlanta batters.

He was undone in the second inning when Ryan Klesko ripped a 3-2 pitch for his 10th home run, scoring McGriff and David Justice.

The Astros battled back slowly, scoring three runs in the next five innings on a solo home run by Orlando Miller in the third, a fielder's choice by Rick Wilkins in the seventh and a single in the eighth by Miller to tie the score at three.

Despite out-hitting the Astros 16-7, the Braves were unable to post any more runs for starter John Smoltz until the ninth inning when Doug Jones was slammed for three straight hits before McGriff apparently sealed the victory with his sixth home run.

But the Astros wouldn't go away that easily.

Derek Bell (who saved two runs in the fourth with an amazing running catch in deep right) started a Houston rally with a double in the bottom of the ninth off flamethrower Mark Wohlers.

Sean Berry's single up the middle was followed by a wobbly grounder to third that Chipper Jones mishandled, scoring Bell. Miller followed with a single, and suddenly, the tying run was at the plate -- and Wohlers was off to the showers.

Pinch-hitter Derrick May worked Atlanta reliever Greg McMichael to a full count before striking out to end the game.

Smoltz set a personal best for April with his fifth straight win and added 10 strikeouts to bring his National League-leading total to 51. McMichael pitched one-third of an inning to notch his second save.

Though Jones took the loss (he allowed three earned runs in only one-third of an inning), he was joined by Tabaka, Xavier Hernandez and Alvin Mormon as the Houston bullpen was pummeled for seven hits and four runs in three innings of work.

The poor bullpen outing is a bad sign for the under-.500 Astros, who announced today that closer John Hudek is out of action with a rib fracture.

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