All the Rangers knew is the Astros scored seven runs in the first two innings off of starter Kevin Millwood and went on to a 7-2 victory at Minute Maid Park on Thursday. The victory allowed the Astros to take two of three from the Rangers during the second half of their home-and-home Interleague series.
Hunter Pence had a three-run triple in the first and the Astros tacked on four more runs in the second before Millwood got everything under control. He stayed around for five innings, but Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez pitched a shutout into the eighth and the Rangers really never got back into the game.
"I made a lot of bad pitches and they hit them," Millwood said. "Even after that, I didn't make a whole lot of good pitches. My defense picked me up the last three innings. I was coming off a game where I felt I threw the ball pretty well but tonight was the total opposite. I felt good. I felt I all my pitches were there but I didn't locate them."
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton had to leave the game after one inning when he was hit by a pitch on the base of his left hand in his first at-bat. X-rays were negative and Hamilton, who also has been dealing with inflammation in his left knee, is questionable for Friday's game with the Phillies.
"It's just bruised, but it's as sore as can be," Hamilton said. "Everything felt fine running, but my hand didn't start hurting until I got out into the field. Must have been the adrenaline from having a ball come right at your face."
Keeping Hamilton healthy is far more important to the Rangers than the Silver Boot.
"We just have to keep the snakes away from him," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I'm glad it wasn't anything serious."
For those who do care, the Rangers did keep the Silver Boot for the second straight year and the fourth time in the past five years. They did it on run differential. The teams ended up splitting the six games, but the Rangers outscored the Astros 34-28 in the series.
The Rangers aren't worried about playing .500 against the Astros as they are about having a .500 record as they reach the halfway point of the season. Thursday's loss left the Rangers 40-40 on the season.
The Rangers started off the season 7-16 and then were thrilled when they were able to get back to the .500 mark by winning 15 of their next 21 games. That left them 22-22 after a 6-2 win over the Astros on May 17. They are 18-18 since then. They were 2 1/2 games behind on May 17; they are 8 1/2 games out of first place after Thursday's loss.
"We'd like to get on a nice roll, that's for sure," Young said. "We lose a game, fall below .500, win a couple in a row, then drop back again. It would be nice to put a hot streak together. I know we're capable of it."
Millwood had been on a nice roll since coming off the disabled list, going 3-0 with a 4.22 ERA in five starts. But this fell apart on him pretty good. Michael Bourn led off first inning with a single. Millwood came back to strike out David Newhan and Miguel Tejeda, but Bourn stole second. That left first base open and Millwood pitched around Lance Berkman, walking him to bring up Carlos Lee.
That set up the big at-bat of the night. Millwood jumped ahead 0-2 on Lee, then tried to get him to chase a pitch out of the strike zone. Lee didn't bite and instead looked at four straight balls to draw a walk.
"Carlos Lee is a very good hitter but you get 0-2 on him, you've got to put him away," Millwood said. "I wasn't able to do that. I just thought with guys in scoring position, he would be swinging the bat. I didn't think I needed to throw him a strike. But he wasn't patient and didn't chase."
Millwood then tried to throw a first-pitch fastball for a strike to Pence, who crushed it deep to center field over Hamilton's head for a three-run triple. Millwood struck out Ty Wigginton to end the inning, but the Astros scored four more in the second.
That was more than enough for Rodriguez. Millwood's double was the only hit he allowed in the first 5 1/3 innings and Rodrgiuez took a three-hit shutout into the eighth.
"Seven runs in the first two innings, the way that guy was throwing there wasn't going to be a comeback," Washington said. "You have off days and today was one of [Millwood's] better efforts. I expected him to keep us in the ballgame but it didn't happen. We'll just get him ready for his next start."