HOUSTON — Astros starter Bud Norris did just about everything right, but he made one crucial mistake on a pitch to Greg Dobbs, as the Florida Marlins rallied from three runs down in the sixth inning en route to a 7-5 win over Houston on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
It marked the Astros’ second straight loss, dropping them to 1-7 on the season — the worst current record in the National League.
Norris allowed four earned runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings, and even helped himself with the bat by giving Houston a 2-1 lead in the second with an RBI double.
Hunter Pence drove in the first run of the game with a first-inning RBI double, while Marlins shortstop Donnie Murphy, who shifted positions to fill in for the injured Hanley Ramirez, tied the score with an RBI groundout to first that pushed Mike Stanton across the plate.
After Norris regained the lead for the Astros, Angel Sanchez — who finished with two hits on the night — made it 3-1 with a second-inning RBI single.
Pence struck again in the fifth, putting Houston up 4-1 with an RBI single to score Michael Bourn — giving him four RBI so far this season.
Despite a three-run cushion, Norris ran into trouble in the sixth inning, which resulted in the turning point of the game for both teams.
Stanton cracked an RBI double to deep center field to cut the lead to 4-2, thus setting the stage for Dobbs, who belted a monstrous 415-foot two-run homer to right-center, making it a new ballgame.
“I threw the ball well,” Norris said. “I got in a groove and held them in check for five innings. That sixth inning got away from me. I made the pitch I wanted in the right location. You’ve got to tip your cap to Dobbs for having an amazing night. It’s tough, unfortunately.”
Norris made it through the sixth, tossing a total of 94 pitches (62 for strikes), before handing the ball over to left-handed reliever Fernando Abad (1-1), who allowed run-scoring doubles to Chris Coghlan and Omar Infante in the seventh that put Florida up 6-4.
Dobbs knocked in his third run of the game with an RBI double to deep left field off Houston reliever Enerio Del Rosario in the eighth.
Astros first baseman Brett Wallace drove in his fifth run of the season with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to score Carlos Lee.
Florida starter Javier Vazquez (1-1) allowed four earned runs on eight hits with two walks and four strikeouts over six innings to earn his first win.
Leo Nunez tossed a scoreless ninth to record in his third save.
“Anytime you have the lead late in the game, you want to be able to put it away, there’s no doubt,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “It’s going to happen when it’s doesn’t happen. I wish it never did, but it’s going to happen. The guys kept battling all the way to the end. It was good to see the tying run come to the plate there in the ninth inning to give us a chance for a comeback.”
However, once again, the Astros found another way to lose, as it seems to be a different scenario, outside of their one win, each game.
At this point, it’s not clicking on all cylinders in the early going for Mills’ squad, as the offense, starting pitching, bullpen and defense can’t seem to get on the same page on a given night to produce a win.
If the offense and starting pitching excel, the bullpen falters, or if the starting pitching does well, the Astros’ offense doesn’t score runs.
On the other hand, if the starting pitching serves it up early, it’s putting too much pressure on the offense to get back in the game.
Although it’s still early in the season, the Astros are already five games behind Cincinnati for first place in the NL Central, and if they’re not careful, Houston could fall out of the divisional race within the first month, considering how well the Reds continue to perform.
“What’s been tough is seeing us go back and forth,” Mills said. “I thought Wandy did a good job Friday night of getting our bullpen to face the guys we wanted. With Bud, he threw the ball extremely well in the fourth and fifth innings, and just getting him over that hump to get him through the sixth would have been good.
“We’re going to continue to look at our options, especially in middle relief. We have the arms down there to do that. I think we’ve seen it, at times. Fernando [Abad] hadn’t given up any runs coming in. With him being the only lefty down there, he’s done a good job for us.
“Lopez had a bit of a hiccup Friday night, but he did a good job of bouncing back. Del Rosario threw the ball extremely well in his second inning. So, we’re getting some good times, but we need to kind of get it together. When we’re able to do that, we’ll be able to stretch it.”
The Astros will look to avoid getting swept by the Marlins on Sunday afternoon in the three-game weekend finale at Minute Maid Park, as left-hander J.A. Happ (0-1, 15.75 ERA) gets the starting nod against right-hander Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 3.18 ERA).
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