Harrell falters as Astros' slide reaches six games
Right-hander cruises into fifth inning before running into trouble
DETROIT -- Lucas Harrell had cruised through 4 2/3 innings yielding only a single hit, seemingly perfecting the art of the ground-ball out. The Astros' offense, meanwhile, had put two runs on the board, taking their first multiple-run lead against Detroit in six games this year. Then, once again, the game took an abrupt turn.
It was an all-too-familiar feeling for the Astros, playing their second of a three-game set against the Tigers on Tuesday. Another game and another bad inning to rip the contest from their grasp, as a three-run Detroit fifth turned a two-run Houston lead into a one-run deficit, and the Astros went on to fall to the Tigers, 6-2, at Comerica Park.
"That's been the story of our season," manager Bo Porter said.
Similar to Monday night's 7-2 loss -- in which starter Bud Norris allowed a six-run fourth inning that changed the course of the game -- Harrell allowed things to spin out of control with a similar result.
The right-hander had been making battling through Detroit's vaunted lineup seem like a leisurely stroll. A one-out infield single in the first inning by Torii Hunter would be all the Tigers could muster until two outs in the fifth.
Harrell had toyed with his opponents until that point. The 27-year-old, who makes his living getting ground-ball outs, recorded seven straight groundouts -- between two walks -- spanning from the second inning until the fifth. After a fly ball by Victor Martinez in the second, he didn't serve up another until Martinez's next at-bat.
"I felt great today," Harrell said. "I felt like I threw the ball really well. Things just didn't go my way."
Things stopped going his way shortly after that second Martinez at-bat. It was an Omar Infante single that began a two-out rally, which ultimately ended with a Tigers' lead.
Don Kelly followed with a single to plate the second baseman, who stole second, before Ramon Santiago and Andy Dirks belted doubles to score the game-tying and go-ahead runs.
"He was making good pitches," Dirks said. "Wasn't leaving much over the plate, mixing it up pretty well. And after you see a guy a couple times, usually you see what he's got and it gives you a little bit of an edge."
On one hand, Harrell had entered the game pitching better the second time through the order, limiting hitters to a .237 batting average, compared to .286 in their first at-bats.
On the other, the fifth and sixth innings have plagued the right-hander this year, as batters have posted .357 and .524 clips in those innings, respectively. And those were the innings the damage was done.
"They have good hitters," Porter said. "Take a look at their lineup. Sometimes you've got to give credit to the other team. Harrell did a good job of holding them at bay for the length of time that he did."
Tigers skipper Jim Leyland had a different theory entirely. He said it was Infante's steal that put the pressure on, and credited the veteran for making the decision to swipe the bag.
"I think when Omar stole the base, it changed the whole inning," Leyland said. "I think all of a sudden now, [Harrell is thinking] 'Oof, I'm trying not to give up a run.' I thought it was huge."
Harrell struck out Hunter to end the damage, but a leadoff double by Miguel Cabrera in the sixth followed by a Prince Fielder walk and a Martinez RBI single ended his night.
Harrell finished by giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks in five-plus innings. He went from seven straight ground-ball outs to five of six Tigers roping the ball to the outfield.
His struggles cost the Astros their early lead off Doug Fister. Back-to-back singles by Chris Carter and Carlos Pena got the Astros started leading off the second. A J.D. Martinez RBI double scored Carter and a sacrifice fly from Jimmy Paredes plated Pena to give Houston an early 2-0 lead.
Houston had Fister on the ropes with 62 pitches through three frames. But the lanky right-hander recovered to retire 18 of the next 20 batters and fire seven innings.
With the loss, the Astros matched their longest losing streak of the season -- six games -- heading into a series-finale matchup Wednesday against fireballer Max Scherzer.
However, Porter doesn't expect he'll need to give his team added incentive to show up motivated to play.
"You should be motivated every day that you're in the big leagues," he said. "This right here is an opportunity to play the game that you all love. ... You should be here and ... motivated to play every day, despite whatever is going on around you."
Perhaps it was Leyland who summed up the Astros' current situation best. The 68-year-old has managed for 22 seasons. His first campaign started off similar to Porter's -- managing the 1986 Pirates, losers of 98 games.
"It's tough right now for them, but it'll be good at some point when those players mature and get more seasoning and everything. You'll see the rewards," Leyland said. "I went through it in Pittsburgh. It's difficult for them right now, but they've played us really tough. ... They're playing their tails off. I mean, they're kids are trying to prove themselves, they're getting an opportunity and they're busting their tails."