05/31/2002 7:37 pm ET
Hot-hitting Hidalgo helps Houston
Astros slugger hits a pair of two-run homers in win
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- The Astros have a history of doing well at Wrigley Field -- in fact, they entered Friday's contest against the Cubs with a 21-9 record at The Friendly Confines since 1997.
Richard Hidalgo is also historically good at Wrigley. Not including his game-winning antics during Friday's series opener, he already had a lifetime batting average of .384 (28-for-73) with eight homers -- his highest total in any road stadium -- and 17 RBIs.
Those numbers were drastically inflated Friday during the Astros' first game at Wrigley this year, when Hidalgo went 4-for-4 and drove in all four Houston runs with a pair of two-run homers in the seventh and ninth innings, leading to a 4-1 win over the Cubs.
Hidalgo had already tagged Cubs starter Jason Bere for base hits in his first two at-bats before he hit the first homer, a shot that sailed over the left field bleachers and onto Waveland Avenue. His second, a ninth-inning blast off Cubs reliever Juan Cruz, didn't travel quite as far but was convincing enough when it landed in the left field bleachers.
Perhaps he wasn't aware of just how good his numbers are at Wrigley -- after Friday's game, his average climbed to .416 -- but Hidalgo certainly is not oblivious to the success he has had in Chicago.
"I knew," he said with a smile. ""This is a good place to hit. I like playing here."
As does the entire team. But despite a sound win over the Cubs to open the series, the Astros still have a glaring number of players on the roster who have not lived up to expectations this year. The offense -- sporadic at best -- has been the target of the most criticism for the club's subpar 24-29 record. And Hidalgo -- once the crown jewel of the Astros' farm system who is now locked up in a lucrative and long contract -- must be one of the primary contributors if this team is going to contend.
Hidalgo has been mired in what has been, for the most part, a season-long hitting slump. His batting average plummeted at an alarming pace beginning May 17, a day after he went 1-for-3 during a home game against the Pirates. In the following 10 games, Hidalgo batted .143 (5-for-35) and entering Friday's game, his average dipped to .249.
"I know he's been struggling," catcher Gregg Zaun said. "It's nice to see him to get four hits, but the home runs were key. He's really staying on the ball well, he's getting some pitches up in the strikezone and he's absolutely hammering them. That's good to see.
"We haven't been doing the small things and we've got some guys capable of hitting the ball out of the yard. We haven't been doing that, either. We'd like to see him return to the 44-home run type guy that he is."
Hidalgo's two homers Friday were his ninth and 10th of the season. The game marked his seventh career two-homer performance and his first this year.
"It was a good day today," he said. "But I try to do my best every time I play. That's the way I'm going to be every day."
Hidalgo had a bit of a tantrum two days earlier after expressing his displeasure during a closed-door meeting with manager Jimy Williams when Hidalgo discovered his name was not in the lineup. Perhaps such an outburst could have a positive effect on the young outfielder in the long run.
"He was just a little upset," said interim manager John Tamargo, filling in for Williams, who was away to attend his son's high school graduation. "I guess you could say it woke him up a little bit."
Hidalgo picked a good time to spring to life. His four hits represented more than half of an Astros' offense, which scratched out only seven on the day. Zaun accounted for a base hit in the seventh, and Jeff Bagwell was 2-for-3, drawing a walk in the seventh and knocking a hit in the ninth to get on base and set the table for Hidalgo's heroics.
The win was only Houston's third in 11 games but nonetheless inched them a bit closer to the .500 mark that the team has reached only twice this year.
"We've got a pretty good team," Hidalgo said. "We know we can do better. We've just got to keep going."
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.