Astros' Norris earns win, but not first complete game

MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- An elusive personal milestone slipped through the grasp of Houston Astros right-hander Bud Norris once again Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, but in the grand scheme of things, it hardly mattered.
Norris just missed recording his first career complete game, though he pitched masterfully enough two batters into the ninth inning to set the table for the Astros' 3-1 victory over the scuffling Los Angeles Angels.
Norris (4-3) worked eight innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 23, 2010, and against the Cardinals again on June 8, 2011. He needed just 77 pitches to reach that threshold Wednesday night.
In the ninth, though, Mike Trout laced a sharp single to left field, and Albert Pujols followed with a single to right under the glove of first baseman Carlos Pena.
"My whole thought process when I sent him back out there was to give him an opportunity to finish what he started," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "But at the same time, he pitched too well to get a loss. So if there was only one man on base, I would have let him keep going. But once the second man got on base, at that point all he can get is a no-decision. The closer is up, he's ready, and that's why I had (Jose) Veras ready to go."
Veras, who threw a perfect ninth inning Tuesday night, delivered again, striking out Mark Trumbo before getting Howie Kendrick to roll into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded for his fourth save of the season.
Still, the star for the Astros (10-24) was Norris, who allowed nine hits, including a solo homer to Josh Hamilton in the seventh, and one walk while striking out two. He was so efficient that during one four-inning stretch, the second through fifth, he threw fewer than 10 pitches in each frame.
"I definitely played with the corners, and (catcher Jason) Castro and I had an unbelievable rapport back there," said Norris, who threw 84 pitches. "Like I said, the guys made every play behind me. I had a couple double plays, which keeps the pitch count down, and that's always helpful. I definitely made some pitches when I needed to. On the good nights, it is supposed to go that way."
By the close of the sixth, Norris had yet to record a strikeout or issue a walk, instead allowing the Angels (11-22) to put the ball in play early in counts.
He allowed six hits by that juncture, but double-play grounders off the bat of Trout in the first inning and Chris Iannetta in the fifth kept him on pace. After getting Pujols to ground out to third baseman Matt Dominguez to cap the sixth, Norris' ledger included just 47 pitches.
"Norris was pounding the zone with his fastball and slider," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "When we got pitches to hit, I thought we did a good job of squaring them up and putting runners in scoring position. But we just didn't get the key hits, we hit into double plays four times, and that certainly put a damper on our offensive momentum."
Angels right-hander Joe Blanton (0-6) was in cruise control too, hardly resembling a starter with an ERA a shade under 6.00. He retired the first seven batters he faced before coming undone a bit in the third.
Starting with Dominguez, Blanton allowed doubles to three of four batters, with Marwin Gonzalez driving home Dominguez and Jimmy Paredes plating Gonzalez. Astros left fielder Chris Carter cranked the second pitch of the fifth, an 89 mph fastball, out to left for his eighth homer and his second in as many nights, staking the Astros to a 3-0 lead.
That was all Norris needed, and while he didn't finish what he started, his efficiency was such that it left a lasting impression on the Angels.
"He obviously didn't throw too many pitches, but then again, we didn't have very many good at-bats that translate into hits and runs," Trumbo said. "It just went his way tonight."
NOTES: Angels SS Erick Aybar extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single on the first pitch of the game. His hitting streak is the longest by an Angel this season. ... Veras made his 165th appearance since the start of the 2011 season, second in the majors in that span. He trails only Colorado Rockies RHP Matt Belisle, who has 170 appearances in that span. ... Norris improved to 7-2 with a 1.86 ERA over his last 16 starts at Minute Maid Park. Since the start of the 2012 season, only Detroit Tigers RHP Justin Verlander (1.72) and Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw (1.85) own superior home ERAs.

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