Scott Downs makes his return to the major leagues after a two-year absence as the Montreal Expos play the decisive game of their three-game series with the NL Central-leading Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Downs, a 27-year-old left-hander, was recalled from Triple-A Edmonton on Saturday to replace right-hander Claudio Vargas, who was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder tendinitis.
”(Friday), when they told me, it really didn’t hit me,” Downs said of his promotion. “I just went about my business and did the same thing I do every other day.
“I get to (Houston on Saturday) and the butterflies start hitting a little bit. I felt like a kid again. It’s what I’ve been working for. It’s exciting to get this chance.”
Downs will makes his first big league start since Aug. 8, 2000, when he pitched against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game he left with shoulder soreness.
That seemingly minor discomfort led to “Tommy John” surgery, causing him to miss nearly two seasons.
Downs was 7-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 18 starts for Edmonton this season, striking out 49 and walking 34. He missed a month because of shoulder soreness but doesn’t believe it was related to his previous injury.
“I’ve had 75 to 80 innings in, and my arm got tired, Downs said. “And it was a sign for me to shut it down for a little bit.”
The Expos snapped a four-game losing streak with Saturday’s 3-1 win. Livan Hernandez pitched a six-hitter for his fifth complete game of the season.
Montreal also ended an eight-game road losing streak and got just its second win in the last 14 away from home.
Lance Berkman drove in the lone run for the Astros, who have alternated wins and losses since July 30. Houston hasn’t won two straight since July 22-23.
Berkman is hitting .359 (37-for-103) with six homers, 22 RBIs and 20 runs over his last 30 games.
STANDINGS: Expos - 4th place, 17 GB, NL East. Astros - 1st place, NL Central.
EXPOS PROBABLE STARTER: Downs (no record). Downs lost his only previous start against Houston, allowing six runs and nine hits over five innings.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Ron Villone (3-2, 3.12 ERA). Villone is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA over his last three starts, including Tuesday’s 10-1 loss to the New York Mets. The left-hander surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings, striking out five and walking one. Villone is 2-4 with a 6.56 ERA in 11 career appearances against Montreal, including four starts.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Expos - Jose Vidro, .318 avg.; Orlando Cabrera, 16 HRs, 65 RBIs, 76 runs and 20 SBs. Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .317 avg.; Jeff Bagwell, 27 HRs and 76 runs; Bagwell and Berkman, 70 RBIs, Bagwell and Adam Everett, 6 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Expos, 3-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Expos - The last Montreal left-handed starter to earn a victory was Matt Blank on June 21, 2001, in a 10-3 victory at New York. … Montreal is 8-19 in its last 27 games decided by two runs or fewer, and is 3-13 in one-run games. … SS Cabrera’s two stolen bases Saturday gave him 41 in his last 42 attempts. Astros - The Astros have won five of the last six season series from the Expos. … 1B Bagwell is three homers shy of becoming the first Astro to hit 30 in eight consecutive seasons. … Houston has been shut out three times this season, tying Atlanta for the fewest in the NL. The Astros haven’t been shut out in 60 consecutive games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Expos - 23-36 on the road; Astros - 35-23 at home.
INJURIES: Expos - C Michael Barrett (hip), 15-day DL; 3B Fernando Tatis (chest), 15-day DL; RHP Orlando Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Dan Smith (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Scott Stewart (appendicitis), 15-day DL; RHP Vargas (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Tony Armas Jr. (shoulder), 60-day DL. Astros - INF Jose Vizcaino (wrist), 15-day DL; LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Roy Oswalt (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 60-day DL.