Tampa Bay bats quiet after first as Houston's offense awakens
Special to MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Astros left fielder Chris Carter hit two homers, and Bud Norris scattered six hits over seven innings as Houston ended Tampa Bay's winning streak at four with a 4-1 win on Wednesday before 14,143 at Minute Maid Park.
But it started out like the last two games, both lopsided shutout wins for the Rays.
Just as he did the night before, Desmond Jennings lined the first pitch of the game for a single. And just like Tuesday night, he came around to score. After swiping his 11th base of the season, Jennings moved to third on an infield single by Matt Joyce and scored the game's first run on a sacrifice fly from Ben Zobrist.
Jennings is 20-for-40 (.500) this season when putting the first pitch in play. In addition, he is 7-for-10 when doing so on the first pitch of the game (leading off a road game).
But unlike the last two nights, the Rays did not pile on, leaving runners on base in nearly every inning.
The Astros tied the game with their first run in 22 2/3 innings and first earned run in 30 innings when Carter opened the second inning with a homer to left field on a 3-2 offering from Rays starter Roberto Hernandez (4-10).
It was also the first run the Rays had allowed in 24 consecutive innings, which tied a club record. Over that span, Rays pitching allowed just nine hits and four walks with 27 strikeouts.
"I thought I threw a good pitch; he just made good contact," said Hernandez, who was coming off a solid effort against the Blue Jays giving up three runs on six hits over eight innings.
He was even better Wednesday, giving up just two hits over the first six innings before yielding a leadoff double to Astros first baseman Brett Wallace and a single to Jason Castro that put runners at the corners and no outs to start the seventh inning.
"Roberto was very good tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's been pitching very well with some bad luck."
With the game still tied at 1, Maddon went to his bullpen and called on Jake McGee to put out the seventh-inning fire.
"It was a tough spot to be in, but Jake's been there before, and you're looking for a strikeout," Maddon said of the move. "Of course, Carter has struck out a little bit this year, and Jake's able to do that, and then you've got Carlos [Pena] behind that. It was a good spot for Jake, it just didn't work out."
The lefty grooved a 3-2 pitch to Carter, who blasted his second homer of the game, a three-run no-doubter to left field, giving the Astros a 4-1 lead.
It was Carter's second multihomer game this season and of his career.
"I missed with the location," McGee said. "I didn't have real good location today. I was trying to go a little more away. It just kind of ran back right into his power zone."
Hernandez retired the first three batters he faced before Carter's first homer and faced the minimum 15 batters after it before running into trouble in the seventh.
"I've been comfortable throwing whatever pitch and not walking too many guys," Hernandez said. "It's a tough situation, but you have to keep your head up, and tomorrow is another day."
Norris (6-7) continued his mastery at Minute Maid Park. Coming into the game, he had posted a 2.38 ERA over his 10 starts there. He worked seven innings Wednesday, yielding just the one run and three walks. He struck out five.
"Norris was really good tonight; he's got really good mound composure, he's got the pitches," Maddon said. "He really pitched well, and then Carter hurt us. He didn't miss two pitches.
"You've got to give them credit the way they bounced back today, and their pitcher set up the whole thing."
"We've been going through a couple tough games over here against a good ballclub over there, and I just wanted to go out there and get the team in the win column," Norris said.
James Loney singled in the fourth inning to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, one shy of his career high. He is hitting .411 over that span. He also doubled in the sixth inning. Both times, however, he was stranded on base.