Reds fall to Astros 3-2 for first loss of season
CINCINNATI — It is a fact of physics, isn't it, that all good streaks must come to an end and, by the same law, all bad streaks must come to an end.
Didn't a guy named Newton discover something about that?
And so it came to pass on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park — out with the good for the Cincinnati Reds and out with the bad for the Houston Astros.
The Reds' five-game winning streak to start the 2011 season came to a crashing close and Houston's five-game losing streak to start the season concluded with a 3-2 Astros victory.
The Astros had to huff-and-puff to do it, scoring the winning run with two outs in the top of the ninth inning on a single by Matt Downs.
Cincinnati relief pitcher Nick Masset gave up a lead-off single to Brett Wallace, who was hitting .100 at the time and blooped it the opposite way. After getting the next two outs, Masset gave up a single to Humberto Quintero and the game-winning single to Downs.
The Reds, though, didn't take down the flags and bring in the cat just yet, even after their first two batters in the bottom of the ninth were retired by closer Brandon Lyon.
Brandon Phillips singled sharply and Joey Votto's single ricocheted off the first baseman's chest, putting the tying run on second and the winning run on first.
Pinch-hitter Ramon Hernandez, whose three-run walk-off home run provided an Opening Day win, drove one up the middle, but shortstop Angel Sanchez flagged it and back-flipped it to second for a game-ending force.
The Reds had more hits and more baserunners, but left most of them doddering on the basepaths.
Juan Francisco got a rare start at third base and stranded six runners — three times swinging at first pitches to make outs with runners on.
Cincinnati starter Sam LeCure spent most of last season facing the other team's best pitcher when he was given an opportunity to start.
And it happened again Thursdy when he was matched against Brett Myers, who held the Reds to two runs six hits over 6 1/3 innings.
Myers held a 2-1 lead with one out in the seventh. Scott Rolen took a moment out of his off day for a cameo appearance — a pinch-hit assignment that turned into his fourth career pinch-hit home run, tying the game and knocking Myers out of the game — setting up the ninth-inning finish.
LeCure gave up a run in the first and was tied 1-1 heading into the fourth.
Carlos Lee led with a triple and scored on a ground ball that made it 2-1 until Rolen tied it.
"It was a get-me-over fastball, a first pitch of the at-bat and I thought, 'I'll just steal a strike here,'" said LeCure. Instead, the ball nearly landed in the seats. "I didn't think he'd be ready to go, but he was. I thought he hit it out and I was looking at the home plate umpire for another ball and was surprised it stayed in.
"In hindsight, those are the kinds of things that cost you," he said. "A guy on third with nobody out is tough to pitch around. It's another reminder that you have to keep your focus and every pitch matters."
Masset and home plate umpire Jim Reynolds didn't agree on the strike zone and Masset expressed his displeasure.
"He missed four calls, at least, and that's why I had to say something to him," said Masset. "He squeezed me on four pitches. That changes the way you approach a hitter and then they hit some good pitches.
"I had a lot of situations where I could have got a ground ball and got out of that situation in the ninth," he said. "I threw some good pitches and they put some good swings on them. One pitch and I could have got out of it."
Manager Dusty Baker praised LeCure's effort and said, "That was a tough one to lose, especially the way Masset is throwing the ball. He gave up a couple of two-out, two-strike hits to bottom-of-the-order guys and that shows you anybody with a bat is dangerous. He hung that last slider to Downs and if you hang a slider, chances are they'll hit it."
Baker also knows it should not have come down to Masset trying to unshackle himself from a late-game mess.
"We had a lot of chances and we've been picking those up our first five games, but we just didn't get the two-out hits today," he said. "And they ended up doing it."
The Reds finished the opening homestand 5-1 and head west for a three-game series in Arizona, then to the west coast for three in San Diego. In past years, the west coast has been a killing field for the Reds, with them as the victims.
"We just got beat today," said Baker. "We had more opportunities than they did. Hey, we know we weren't going to win every game – as much as you'd like to do it. I'll take a 5-1 homestand every time. We played better on the west coast last year and we want to do better this year."