Sparked to victory
In Pence's debut, the Astros score a season-high 10 runs
By BRIAN MCTAGGART
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
They were able to appreciate the return of some clutch hitting. They were able to appreciate the debut of Hunter Pence. And they were able to appreciate a masterful job by pitcher Chris Sampson.
Most of all, the Astros were able to enjoy a much-needed win.
The Astros' dugout was at ease and brimming with happiness in the final few innings Saturday night as they snapped a seven-game losing streak by pounding the Milwaukee Brewers 10-1 before a sellout crowd of 41,004 at Minute Maid Park.
"Not only did we get guys on base and start driving them in, but whenever you can play a laugher and are up big and don't have to sweat it out, that's something that we needed to do," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "It's a step in the right direction. Obviously, it's not where we need to be, but it gives you something to draw on."
The Astros, who were 13-for-67 (.194) with runners in scoring position during the skid, were 7-for-11 in those situations and scored a season-high 10 runs.
The beneficiary of the outburst was Sampson (3-1), who rebounded from a rocky start five days earlier in Philadelphia to hold the Brewers to five hits and one run. He struck out a career-high eight batters in 6 1/3 innings.
"I kind of figured out what was making me leave the ball up and my sinker not to sink," Sampson said. "(Pitching coach) Dave Wallace and I in the bullpen session prior to this start really focused on that and worked some kinks out, and it really helped me out there tonight."
Berkman went 3-for-4 for his first three-hit game of the season. The top three hitters in the Astros' order — Craig Biggio, Mark Loretta and Berkman — went a combined 6-for-11 with seven RBIs. Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus had two hits each.
"We had some breaks tonight," Loretta sad. "We had some balls fall in we haven't been getting recently and we hadn't been taking advantage of. I thought the story tonight was Sampson and what he did, not only the way he pitched, but offensively.
"It was good to get a win and get the monkey off our back."
Pence, called up from Class AAA Round Rock on Friday, made an impact in his debut. He started in center field and went 1-for-3, scored from first on an Everett double and made a nice catch near Tal's Hill.
First for two rookies
Pence and Sampson both had their first major league hits.
"It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it," Pence said. "Hopefully, there's a lot more to come."
The Astros broke open a tie game by scoring four runs in the fifth, then added five in the sixth. They hadn't scored more than four runs in a game since April 20, which was the last time they had won prior to Saturday.
Most of the damage came against Brewers starter Dave Bush, who had owned the Astros. Bush (2-2) was 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five career starts against the Astros, but allowed 10 hits and eight runs in 5 1/3 innings.
"Bush had been tough on us, but we had some tough at-bats on him early in the ballgame and got his pitch count up, and maybe wore him down some," manager Phil Garner said. "That's maybe why we broke through."
Bottom of order steps up
The bottom of the Astros' order sparked a four-run rally in the fifth. With Everett at first and one out, Ausmus singled to right and Sampson ripped a single up the middle past a drawn-in infield.
Sampson nearly had his first major league RBI, but Everett was thrown out at the plate.
Biggio walked to load the bases for Loretta, who hit a dribbler between the mound and third-base line. Bush scurried to the ball, but his throw to the plate was wide as Ausmus scored.
"It was in one of those no-man spots," Loretta said. "It was pretty lucky, and a good break for us."
Berkman then ripped an 0-1 pitch down the first-base line to score Sampson and Biggio to make it 4-1. Berkman got caught in a rundown but managed to avoid the tag long enough to let Loretta score, too.
Everett stretched the lead to 7-1 in the sixth with a blistering double to the wall in left that scored Luke Scott and Pence. Biggio added a two-run triple and Loretta an RBI single to make it 10-1.