HOUSTON -- The Astros practiced throwing to the bases and fielding grounders for the better part of five weeks under the hot Florida sun in Spring Training to avoid the kind of defensive lapses that spoiled their Opening Day fun on Friday night.
With a sellout crowd of 43,464 on hand to watch the Astros kick off their 50th anniversary season -- and final season in the National League -- Houston's four errors led to four unearned runs and allowed the Rockies to ruin the party with a 5-3 win at Minute Maid Park.
"The one thing that was more disappointing than anything else is [we were] the ballclub that had the fewest amount of errors in the Grapefruit League, and Opening Day we committed those four," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "It was kind of some mental mistakes I'm more concerned about than anything else."
The loss was the Astros' sixth in a row on Opening Day, dropping them to 23-28 all-time in season openers, including 18-19 at home. It was a disappointing defensive display for a club that committed only 13 errors in Grapefruit League play, which were the fewest.
The Rockies pushed the go-ahead run across in the eighth inning on a throwing error by catcher Jason Castro that allowed pinch-runner Eric Young to escape a rundown between second and third base and score. Troy Tulowitzki added a solo shot in the ninth to finish the scoring for Colorado.
"If he throws to second, keep going to third; if he throws to third, go back to second," Young said. "Then I scooted home."
Perhaps it was a case of Opening Night jitters for the Astros. Veteran slugger Carlos Lee, who has experienced more than a dozen Opening Days, said even his emotions were getting the best of him early in the game.
"Even on the first pitch I still had some butterflies, but the first at-bat I was shaking," Lee said. "I was anxious to start."
The Astros had the winning run at the plate in the ninth with pinch-hitter Matt Downs, who led the Majors in pinch-hit RBIs last year, but Rafael Betancourt struck him out swinging to end it.
"I know my job there is try to drive something to tie the game, and I just got big and tried to kill the ball," Downs said. "Instead of taking a single or something and trying to drive in a run, I tried to kill a ball and hit the ball into the street out there."
Wandy Rodriguez, making his first career Opening Day start, threw 6 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run. All three runs he allowed in the third inning came after he made a throwing error when second baseman Jose Altuve was late covering first base.
"Those are things we're going to address and move on," Mills said.
Rockies starter Jeremy Guthrie also had a quality start in his debut with Colorado, allowing four hits and three runs in seven innings, including back-to-back homers by Lee and Brian Bogusevic in the fourth.
Neither starter was in line to get a decision when the game went to the eighth inning tied at 3. That's when Rockies catcher Ramon Hernandez started the inning with a single and was replaced by Young, whose speed gave the Astros fits.
Young promptly stole second base, although the throw from Castro beat him to the bag. The swipe tag of shortstop Marwin Gonzalez missed Young's front leg and allowed him to get to the base safely, prompting Mills to dart out of the dugout in disagreement.
"It's obviously a runner's job to do whatever he can to get around it, and those plays are tough," said Castro, who caught nine innings in his first game action since 2010. "Marwin did everything he could, and sometimes it happens that way. All you can do is just keep making plays."
Moments later, Young was caught between second and third base on a pitch in the dirt, but he managed to come around to score when Castro's throw to second base was high and skipped off the glove of Gonzalez and into center field.
The Astros' fourth error proved to be their undoing.
"In that kind of situation, you pretty much have to make a decision right away," Castro said. "He returned to go back to second and I had to make a throw. He took a hard step and turned around [towards third]. I think with him being as fast as he is, he probably would have been safe regardless. It was one of those plays that was tough. I had to make a decision in the blink of eye."