Wandy K's nine to claim home finale
Lefty tosses six strong innings as Astros best Reds
HOUSTON -- The Astros treated a large Sunday afternoon crowd of 37,595 in the season finale at Minute Maid Park with the kind of performance they wish they could have turned in a few more times this season.
Wandy Rodriguez held the Cincinnati Reds to two runs and struck out nine batters in six innings, the bullpen was nearly flawless and the Astros scratched out just enough offense to beat the Reds, 3-2, for their second win in 13 games.
Houston snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Reds and finished with a winning record at home (44-37) for the ninth consecutive season and 17th time in 18 seasons. It opens a seven-game road trip Monday with the first of four games at Philadelphia, which was swept by the Astros in four games earlier this month.
"It's been definitely a rough year and the fans that are still there are true fans, and we certainly appreciate that as players," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "It's always nice when you can close out the home portion of the schedule with a victory."
Rodriguez (14-11), who went 8-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 16 home starts this year, carried a shutout into the sixth inning before giving up a pair of runs. The bullpen took it from there, with Jeff Fulchino, LaTroy Hawkins and Jose Valverde closing the door. Valverde notched his 25th save and has converted 19 consecutive save opportunities.
For Valverde, Hawkins and shortstop Miguel Tejada, it could have been their last appearances at home as members of the Astros. They are free agents at season's end.
"For myself, I'm enjoying every minute here, because I don't know if I'm going to be here next year," said Tejada, who went 1-for-3 to extend his hitting streak to 14 games. "I was thinking the fans have been great for me and shown me a lot of respect and have cheered a lot for me, and I'm going to miss the fans if I don't come back here. Today's a really sad day, because I was thinking it could be my last game played at Minute Maid."
Cincinnati had the bases loaded and one out in the second, but Rodriguez struck out Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and got Drew Stubbs to ground out, with Geoff Blum making a nice play at third base to retire the speedy Stubbs. The Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the third against Cueto and took advantage.
Berkman beat out a potential double-play grounder to force home a run, and Carlos Lee drove in his 99th run of the season with an RBI groundout that made it 2-0. Lee was robbed for a base hit on a diving stop by Adam Rosales.
"That was an at-bat where a guy makes great pitches and you're up there fighting for your life," Berkman said. "That was the case there. It was a 3-2 count, so he was really picking at the edges of the plate and had executed some tough pitches. That 3-2 pitch was a ball in, and I didn't feel like I could afford to take it. You don't want to put that in the hands of the umpire."
Astros catcher Humberto Quintero homered in the fourth inning to make it 3-0, and Houston needed the insurance as the Reds got within 3-2 in the sixth on RBIs by Jonny Gomes and Ramon Hernandez. The Astros were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, but they didn't have to climb out of a huge early hole, which had been the case for most of their final homestand.
"We had talked about it right before the game -- let's score first and see what happens," interim manager Dave Clark said. "Against the Cardinals, we were trying to come from behind and it can be real tough, especially this late in the season. It was good to see Wandy come out and do his thing."
Rodriguez has one start remaining in what has been a breakout season for the 30-year-old, who along with Berkman and Roy Oswalt are the only remaining members of the 2005 World Series team. The start was his 32nd of the season, a career high, eclipsing the 31 he made in '07. Rodriguez also set career highs in wins, innings pitched (199 2/3) and strikeouts (190).
"He's been tremendous all year," Berkman said. "That was another great performance today. It makes you feel good to have a guy on your staff like that, knowing every time he takes the mound we have a great chance to win because you know he's not going to give up many runs. We didn't do a whole lot offensively. Their guy was pretty good, too, but we did enough. The bullpen was pretty good, too, and it was an overall good win."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.