Thanks in large part to the best road record in the majors, the New York Mets remain the NL East leaders. They are still seeking consistency at Shea Stadium, however.
New York tries to play better at home when it opens a three-game series Friday night against the worst road team in baseball, the Houston Astros.
The Mets (78-61) saw their season-high five-game winning streak end Wednesday with a 7-0 loss at Cincinnati. New York went 5-5 on its 10-game road trip, but still owns a comfortable five-game cushion over Philadelphia in the East.
“I’m proud of the boys for finishing the way they did,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “It would have been easy to give in with the way things started (in Philadelphia), but they showed a lot of heart and character. We’ll take a definite positive from that.”
However, New York will need to improve its play at home. The Mets are a major league-best 43-31 in road games, but a pedestrian 35-30 at Shea - including 7-10 in their last 17 games there.
They did, though, take two of three games from Houston when the Astros last visited Flushing, from July 21-23, 2006.
As the Mets try to avoid consecutive shutout losses, they’ll have to overcome a pitcher who held them scoreless earlier this season.
Wandy Rodriguez (8-12, 4.49 ERA) threw his only career complete game against the Mets on July 6, a four-hitter with a walk and eight strikeouts as the Astros won 4-0 at Minute Maid Park.
Rodriguez, who is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three career starts against New York, had a rare strong road outing Friday at Chicago. The left-hander threw six scoreless innings, surrendering four hits and three walks while striking out five, in the Astros’ 6-1 win over the Cubs.
He snapped a string of six consecutive road losses over seven starts, and improved to 2-9 with a 7.11 ERA in 13 outings away from home this season.
“It’s a big positive for him,” interim manager Cecil Cooper told the Astros’ official Web site. “It gives him confidence going into his next start on the road.”
Mets starter Mike Pelfrey (1-7, 5.43) is also coming off a quality outing. The 23-year-old right-hander Pelfrey enjoyed the best start of his two-year career Saturday, allowing one run, one hit and three walks while striking out seven in six innings of the Mets’ 5-1 win at Atlanta.
Pelfrey has lost both of his career starts versus the Astros - including July 6 against Rodriguez - giving up nine runs over 10 1-3 innings.
He will not have the offensive support of Carlos Delgado. The Mets first baseman sat out Wednesday’s game and is expected to miss at least a week because of a strained right hip flexor.
“Anytime it’s one of your big guys, you get concerned,” said Randolph, whose team went 3-1 when Delgado was out with a hyperextended left knee from Aug. 16-19.
The Astros (62-78) fell to a major league-worst 26-45 on the road - including 2-4 on their current trip - with a 14-2 defeat on Wednesday at Milwaukee. Houston pitchers allowed five home runs, three of which were three-run shots.
“It was a pretty rough night for us,” said Cooper, who is 4-5 since taking over for Phil Garner on Aug. 27.
Luke Scott provided all of Houston’s offense with a two-run homer in the ninth inning - his third home run in the last eight games.