Break could cool hot streak
The Astros seem to have finally found the
momentum they've been searching for since (without trying to sound too
Day. The only problem is that they had
to take three days off during the All-Star break.
Without question, players, coaches and
managers — not to mention trainers, traveling secretaries, clubhouse managers
relations directors — covet the three-day
break between halves of a grueling six-month season.
But the Astros, thanks to a 6-1 win over
the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday, are on a roll after finishing
up their longest
road trek of the year with a 7-2 record
to wrap up what was a disappointing first half.
Winners of 10 of their last 14 games, the
Astros finished the first half four games below .500 at 41-45, but incredibly
entered Sunday's contest only six and
one-half games behind first-place St. Louis.
It kind of makes them want to play as soon
as possible. The winning road trip was Houston's first of the year.
The club finished at the .500 mark on the
road only twice this year, with the remainder of the trips resulting well
below that level.
The Astros won three consecutive road series
this time around, beating the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds twice of
games and went on to defeat the Bucs three
games out of a four-game series.
"It was a good game for us," manager Jimy
Williams told the media Sunday. "We got some key hits, certainly from Merced
other people too. But that one big inning
helped us a lot. We had some good at-bats. We didn't necessarily rely on
the home run."
The Astros headed into the All-Star break
with the knowledge all was not lost. Buoyed by victories in eight of their
last 10 games, they
moved a step closer to respectability.
The team may not be together physically
until Thursday for a four-game series against Cincinnati, but they are
still united in their
feeling that the club, at one time 10
games below .500 and 10 and one-half games out of first place, remarkably
still has a chance to
win the division crown.
The "Killer Bs" came out swinging in the
first seven games of Houston's most recent road trip.
Lance Berkman hit .419 (13-for-31) with
six homers and 17 runs batted in, Craig Biggio hit .400 (12-for-30) and
Jeff Bagwell hit at a
.355 clip (11-for-31) with three homers
and nine RBI.
The Astros seemed lost more often than
not in the first half, but their fans have hope after the offense re-emerged
in style over the last
Daryle Ward fouled a ball off the little
toe on his right foot July 3 at Cincinnati, but X-rays taken the next day
came back negative. Ward
sat out Thursday's game against the Pirates,
but did appear as a pinch-hitter on Friday.
Ward said the time off gave him plenty
of time to heal and he did not feel any further pain, a point he proved
Saturday when he
launched a grand slam into the Allegheny
River behind PNC Park.
"Maybe they haven't seen my salary in the
paper. I'd sign something for him in a trade, but it's not like it was
my 74th home run," Ward
said in response to a river boater jumping
ship to retrieve the ball in exchange for money.
T.J. Mathews pitched a scoreless inning,
allowing one hit and striking out one, during his first rehab assignment
at Triple-A in New
Orleans on Saturday.
Williams said Mathews would probably pitch
at least six more times before the veteran reliever is ready to rejoin
The stars come out
After barely making a dent in the Home
Run Derby, Berkman, playing in his second All-Star game Tuesday, delivered
late in the contest.
Berkman's National League team took a 7-6
lead in the eighth inning when he singled off the American League's Kazuhiro
bring in two runs.
The game was called after the 11th inning
with the score tied 7-7. National League Manager Bob Brenly told Commissioner
Selig he had run out of pitchers to use.
It's only the second time in 73 All-Star games that a game has ended in