A reliable closer is a key component for any successful team. That is part of the reason why the Houston Astros are 10 games under .500.
The Astros look to assure themselves of a second consecutive series win Wednesday night when they continue a three-game home set against the Oakland Athletics.
Returned recently to his role as closer, Brad Lidge served up the tying home run to leadoff batter Mark Kotsay in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s series opener. Lidge was trying to close out a game for the first time since April, when manager Phil Garner demoted him from the role.
Lidge regained his old status by allowing only one earned run in his last 19 2-3 innings as a set-up man. Because Dan Wheeler had given up nine runs in his last 6 2-3 innings, Garner had little choice but to restore Lidge, who has 104 career saves, to closer duty.
“I’ve been feeling really good and I was still feeling good focus tonight,” said Lidge, who is 0-for-3 in save opportunities this season. “I maybe got a little too over-amped on an 0-2 pitch. I tried to throw too good of one and probably left it up for him a little bit too much.”
Ausmus, a 15-year veteran catcher and a career .253 hitter, is 8-for-16 with a homer and seven RBIs in his past four games.
“I’m just swinging the bat better lately,” he said. “That’s it. I don’t know why.”
The victory was the third in five games for Houston (27-37). The Astros played without first baseman Lance Berkman, who dropped his appeal and began serving a two-game suspension for inappropriate actions during a June 5 game in Colorado.
Chris Sampson (6-5, 3.36 ERA) looks to win his career-high third consecutive start for Houston. The right-hander limited the Chicago White Sox to two runs and six hits over 6 2-3 innings Friday in a 5-2 victory.
Since allowing a season-high seven runs in a loss to Philadelphia on April 23, Sampson has surrendered three runs or fewer in eight straight outings while lasting at least six innings in each of his past six starts.
He has never faced the Athletics.
Joe Kennedy was reached for five runs over five innings Tuesday, as Oakland (34-29) lost for only the second time in 10 games. It also marked the first time in 14 contests that an Athletics starter surrendered more than two earned runs.
Included in that stretch were a pair of outstanding starts from Joe Blanton (5-4, 3.60), who has allowed one run and seven hits over 16 1-3 innings in his past two outings. He limited Boston to one run and four hits in 7 1-3 innings on Thursday, but was outpitched by Curt Schilling, who came within one out of a no-hitter as Oakland lost 1-0.
Blanton, who has never faced the Astros, is 4-3 with a 3.58 ERA in nine career interleague starts.