Injury-ridden 'Stros stunned late in tough loss

May 30th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Nothing is coming easy these days for the Astros, who are battling a growing wave of injuries and an ineffective bullpen that’s having an increasingly difficult time closing out games. So when closer Ryan Pressly got Fernando Tatis Jr. to hit a pop up with two outs in the ninth inning Saturday night, it appeared as if the Astros had escaped with a win.

Not so fast.

What followed was an excruciating turn of events that resulted in arguably the Astros’ worst loss of the season, an 11-8 setback to the Padres in 12 innings that had manager Dusty Baker wondering how his team could blow a five-run lead and how it's going to escape this tailspin.

“They have a good team over there, and you can’t give them any window,” Baker said. “They have enough abilities to capitalize on them.”

And that’s what happened when Astros rookie first baseman Taylor Jones wasn’t able to catch the Tatis popup in foul territory, giving the feared Padres slugger another shot. He crushed the next pitch from Pressly and sent it 448 feet over the left-field wall to tie the game and force extra innings.

“I felt bad for Taylor,” Baker said.

Houston’s bullpen couldn’t limit the damage. Wil Myers slugged a three-run home run off rookie pitcher Ralph Garza Jr. in the 12th as the Padres stormed from down 6-1 to win a wild game at Minute Maid Park that took more than five hours to complete.

“We should have won in a lot of different ways,” Baker said. “I thought [Friday’s 10-3 loss in 11 innings] was tough, but this is even tougher -- two outs in the bottom of the ninth and nobody on base. Boy, it’s tough to take, but we've got to come back tomorrow and hopefully, this game gives us even more strength to keep adding on runs. There was a bunch of things that happened in that game.” 

It didn’t help the Astros were without starting designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and starting first baseman Yuli Gurriel, both of whom have nagging injuries, as well as outfielder Michael Brantley, who’s on the injured list. The bullpen has also been hit hard by injuries, with Bryan Abreu hurting his leg shagging balls pregame Saturday.  

Still, the Astros led, 6-1, in the eighth, when the Padres scored twice off Joe Smith. Baker summoned Pressly for a four-out save. He ended the eighth and got two quick outs to start the ninth before a walk and a double set the stage for a showdown with Tatis.

Tatis hit a towering pop up into foul territory on the second pitch of the at-bat. Jones -- a late addition to the lineup after Gurriel was scratched with a sore finger -- tracked the ball towards the railing and then couldn’t catch as he fell backwards on the dirt.

“I definitely should have had it,” Jones said. “As I was tracking it, I was trying to find the net and keep track of where the net was and keep my eye on the ball, and I kind of overran the ball a little bit. By the time it started to come down, it was behind me, and I missed it. I should have had it.”

Pressly followed with a 94.8 mph fastball up and in that Tatis turned on and hit at 114.9 mph over the left-field wall, stunning everyone in the ballpark. Tatis’ 15th homer tied him for the National League lead with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr.

“It was top rail in,” Pressly said. “We’ve been going there all day, and we had success with him. I think he just [turned] on it, and you’ve got to tip your hat to him. He’s an unreal hitter. I’d be more upset if I missed middle-middle. We’ve been going there all game, and he finally decided he wasn’t going to get beat there anymore and just sold out for it and got it.”

Both teams scored once in the 10th and 11th before the Padres broke it open against Garza, who was making his Major League debut. The Astros’ bullpen has given up 25 runs (17 earned), 24 hits, 17 walks and 18 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings (7.78 ERA) in the past four games.

“There’s some key players I didn’t have available, both in the bullpen but mainly on the field,” Baker said. “Guys that were in there did the best of their abilities, but we just came up short.”