Astros 6, Marlins 1
HOUSTON (AP)—Carlos Lee wasn’t horsing around with a promise he made to his fan club before the game.
Lee, nicknamed “El Caballo” or “The Horse,” received a stick horse from the fans who call themselves “Los Caballitos” before Tuesday’s game and vowed he’d ride it if he hit a homer.
The home run to the Crawford Boxes in left field off Jorge Julio put Houston ahead 2-1 in the fourth. Lee trotted around the bases and then made good on his promise when he galloped through the dugout on the stick horse while receiving congratulatory pats from his teammates.
“I promised them that I would do it and I did it,” he said with the furry horse peeking out of his locker over his right shoulder.
The spectacle of Lee, who is 240-pounds, riding the horse even elicited a chuckle from the ever-serious Roy Oswalt.
“That’s a big man on a horse,” Oswalt said.
Lee’s two-run double in the fifth that bounced off the wall in left field chased Julio. Lee, who is in his first season in Houston, has 16 RBIs in his last 11 games.
“This is a crazy game,” he said. “I play hard … I don’t know at the end of the day what it’s going to be, but I enjoy the game.”
Julio (0-2) hit Craig Biggio with a pitch to open the fifth inning, Morgan Ensberg singled and Lance Berkman walked to load the bases before Lee’s hit. Adam Everett followed with an RBI single, and Lee scored on Brad Ausmus’ forceout.
Astros ace Oswalt (3-0), who was pitching on short rest, allowed one run— Hanley Ramirez homered on his third pitch—and six hits in 6 1-3 innings.
“That was vintage Roy,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “He did a masterful job.”
He has won nine straight decisions dating to August, tying a career high. He struck out seven and walked three. The Astros have scored 15 runs in Oswalt’s last two starts, a statistic that is comforting to him after Houston’s offensive struggles last season.
“It’s a big plus,” he said. “Once you get a cushion, you can kind of just go right after guys. Before then you kind of have to pitch with caution to not give up too many runs.”
Florida has lost three in a row and five of six.
Julio allowed six runs and five hits in one inning for the loss.
Berkman appeared to have homered in the sixth, but right fielder Joe Borchard jumped and stretched back to make the catch at the wall among outstretched arms of several fans.
Florida right-hander Sergio Mitre tore a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand and left after one out.
“I couldn’t tell you how it happened,” he said. “It just started stinging sometime in the first couple of pitches I guess. Sometime during Biggio’s at bat I started feeling it.”
The Marlins first said it was a callus, but manager Fredi Gonzalez called it a blister after the game. Mitre struck out Biggio and Ensberg had a 2-2 count when the pitcher was replaced by Kevin Gregg, the first of five relievers.
“He ripped the skin off a blister,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t want to make it worse. The trainer says let’s wait and see how it goes.”
Biggio had two hits to pass Frank Robinson for 30th on the hits list with 2,944.
Astros reliever Brad Lidge, replaced as closer last week, came in with one out in the eighth and allowed one hit and walked one.
Houston begins a four-city, nine-game road trip Wednesday, but Lee’s new companion won’t be making the trip.
“He’s a home horse. He has to stay at home,” Lee joked. “You can’t bring a horse on the road—too much maintenance.”
Plate umpire Bruce Froemming was hit by pitches three times. The first one hit his shoulder and the second one hit Biggio before bouncing off the top of his right hand in the fifth inning. The game was stopped for a couple of minutes after the second one while an Astros trainer wrapped a bandage around his hand. The third one came in the fifth, when a pitch by Oswalt hit him in the left arm. The game was stopped again for a bit while trainers attended to him before he returned to the game.