Hampton struggles, Astros fall
Lone Star finale lost after southpaw serves up three jacks
HOUSTON -- The Astros' woes at home and against the Rangers continued Sunday. For the third successive game, Houston was unable to keep the Rangers' hitters at bay, dropping a 5-0 contest to be swept by its in-state rivals.
Miguel Tejada went 4-for-4 with a double, but for the most part, the rest of the lineup was shut down by Rangers starter Brandon McCarthy, who threw his first career shutout to send the Astros to their fourth straight loss. Astros starter Mike Hampton surrendered solo home runs to Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Jarrod Saltalamacchia that gave Texas an early lead -- and then a sweep of the first installment of the Lone Star Series.
"It gets a little discouraging when you are down three or four to nothing pretty early, from an offensive standpoint," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We have to do a better job of holding the game close. Lately, we've been down pretty early, and it's hard to come back when you do that."
Hamilton homered in the first to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, taking a 3-1 pitch into the front row of the Crawford Boxes for his sixth home run of the year. Kinsler and Saltalamacchia led off the third and fourth innings, respectively, with long balls to push the Rangers' lead to 5-0.
Hampton was forced to leave his previous start against the Brewers on Tuesday with a small cut on his left thumb that he suffered while showering in the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field on May 17, and his performance today left questions of whether that cut was still bothering him. But Hampton said after the game his thumb was fine and it didn't affect his outing.
"He felt good, but he made way too many mistakes and got too many balls up -- and like I said yesterday, when you get them up to these kind of hitters, they get you and they hit some balls pretty good," Cooper said. "He stayed in there and battled but we just have to figure out a way for our guys to pitch better and stay in there longer."
The left-hander gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings and remains winless at home, a place where all the Astros have struggled his season.
"I felt like when I made some good pitches and they hit them and when I made some bad pitches, they hit them hard," Hampton said. "I just made too many mistakes and not enough good pitches to put them away."
The loss wrapped a six-game homestand in which the Astros went 1-5, dropping to 9-15 at home this season -- tied for the worse home record in the Majors with the D-backs.
While Houston had little success against all three Texas starters in the series, Tejada continued his hot hitting streak at Minute Maid Park. He collected his 19th multi-hit game of the season to finish the six-game homestand 12-for-23 with six extra-base hits.
"I have just worked hard on my hitting," Tejada said. "I'm not thinking, and I'm just going to the plate and looking for good pitches. I'm hitting in the front of the lineup, and this way I'm not getting too aggressive and I know they are going to pitch to me."
The Astros had their chances to scratch across some runs early. In the third, Michael Bourn reached third on a hit-and-run with Tejada, who singled with one out. But Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee couldn't bring the speedy Bourn home, striking out and flying out to end the inning.
Again in the fifth, Houston put runners in scoring position for Berkman -- this time with two outs -- but the slugger was unable to bring home a run, flying out to left. McCarthy scattered nine hits over his nine innings of work and held the Astros to 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
"We have one of the higher averages in the league, but for some reason we can't score runs," Cooper said. "We need to do a better job of coming through in the clutch and driving in runs. I thought we were getting close on the last road trip, but apparently we've reverted back."
Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.