After recording his second game-winning hit in as many nights, Lee looks to help the Astros get their ninth straight win at Minute Maid Park on Thursday when they meet the Washington Nationals to close a six-game homestand.
Houston (18-16) has won five straight overall and eight in a row at home for its longest win streak at Minute Maid Park since a nine-game run from July 8-30, 2005.
While the current streak might suggest dominance, the first two games of this series have been anything but one-sided. The Astros trailed four different times in Tuesday’s opener before pulling out a 6-5 victory with Lee’s two-run double in the eighth inning. On Wednesday night, Lee delivered a walk-off RBI single in the ninth to give the Astros to a 4-3 win.
“We gotta make it look easier,” said Lee, batting .345 (10-for-29) with one home run and seven RBIs during the home winning streak. “Every night it seems we have to work really hard for it. But as long as we’re winning, we’re happy. Our confidence level is really high.”
Though he has called his team’s recent play “nerve-wracking,” Astros manager Cecil Cooper is happy with the way the club has been able to grind out close wins.
“It’s good,” Cooper told the Astros’ official Web site after the team’s 10th come-from-behind win. “You’re on the edge of your seat every pitch. Guys are playing good defense and making pitches. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Astros’ strong play toward the ends of games has them in position to record their first three-game sweep of the Washington franchise since they did it twice against the Montreal Expos in 2001, sweeping the teams’ season series 6-0.
The Nationals (14-20), who had won six of seven before this series, are hoping to avoid getting swept for the fourth time this season.
The key could be third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who drove in each of the team’s three runs with two home runs off Houston ace Roy Oswalt on Wednesday. He’s 5-for-9 with four RBIs in this series, and 14-for-41 (.341) with three homers lifetime at Minute Maid Park.
“I’m starting to have better at-bats and hitting the ball hard,” Zimmerman told the Nationals’ official Web site. “The loss is tough. We played two good games here and came out short on both of them. If we come out (Thursday) and salvage one and go home, we’ll be fine.”
The Astros will put their win streak on the line with Brandon Backe (2-3, 4.42 ERA) on the mound. The right-hander hit his third career home run and held Milwaukee to two runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 win on Saturday, but walked five for the second consecutive start. He’s tied for second in the NL with 25 walks.
“I’m tired of all these walks that I’m giving up and I’m getting myself in trouble and ultimately not going as far as I want to go,” said Backe, who has lasted six innings only twice.
Backe will try to re-establish his control as he meets the Nationals, against whom he’s 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two career starts.
Washington will hand the ball to John Lannan (2-3, 3.74), who had won consecutive starts without giving up a run before a miserable outing on Friday. The left-hander was tagged for six runs in three innings of an 11-4 loss to Pittsburgh.
Lannan, who’s 1-1 with a 1.37 ERA in three road starts, won his only previous start against the Astros, holding them to three runs in five innings of a 7-6 victory on Aug. 23.