Chris Johnson connected for his biggest home run so far in the 2011 campaign — a two-run blast to left field off reliever Frank Francisco — to break a ninth-inning tie that lifted the Houston Astros to a 5-2 comeback victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Astros, who had dropped 12 out of 15 entering Friday night, snapped its five-game losing skid in historical fashion, as Houston played their first ever regular-season game in franchise history north of the border in the provincial capital of Ontario.
At first, it appeared the Astros were on the verge of dropping another ballgame, considering Toronto held a 2-0 lead after seven innings.
The Blue Jays jumped out to a 1-0 lead off Houston starter Aneury Rodriguez in the second when Juan Rivera reached on a grounder and later advanced to third on J.P. Arencibia’s double, prior to scoring on a fielder’s choice grounder from Eric Thames.
Toronto chased Rodriguez in the sixth after he got Arencibia to fly out to center, but Aaron Hill (double) and Rivera (single to shallow right) had already reached base, thus influencing Astros manager Brad Mills to starting playing the matchup game with his bullpen.
Mills turned the ball over to southpaw Sergio Escalona, who was able to post a strikeout against Thames for the second out.
However, after another pitching change, Rajai Davis lined an RBI single to shallow left on the first offering from reliever Enerio Del Rosario.
Rodriguez was charged with the earned run and finished the night with three strikeouts and one walk while allowing two earned runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings in his fourth career start.
Toronto starter Jo-Jo Reyes, who brought a 26-start winless streak into Friday, tossed seven shutout innings, yielding five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts, but it didn’t turn out to be a happy ending for the young left-hander once the bullpen coughed up the lead.
Astros right fielder Hunter Pence finished with two hits, with his biggest one coming in the eighth inning on a clutch two-run, two-out double off reliever Jon Rauch that pushed Michael Bourn and Clint Barmes across the plate to tie the game at 2-2.
It marked the second blown save on the season for Rauch, which cost Reyes an opportunity to finally break into the win column.
Reyes hasn’t won a game since defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 13, 2008, posting a horrid 0-12 record with a 6.41 ERA in the meantime.
Ultimately, the Astros weren’t finished.
Matt Downs drew a one-out walk off reliever Frank Francisco (1-1) in the ninth to set the stage for Johnson’s two-run shot to left — his fifth homer of the season — that put Houston ahead 4-2.
Bourn added an insurance run for closer Mark Melancon with an infield single to score Angel Sanchez, who had earlier singled.
Melancon allowed a hit in the ninth, but was able to hold on for his second save of the season, while Wilton Lopez (1-1) earned the victory by striking out the side as part of a scoreless eighth.
Although the Astros (16-29) still own the worst record in Major League Baseball, it was a step in the right direction to finally put a victory in the win column in the midst of a rough seven-game road trip, which includes being swept by Atlanta and St. Louis.
Without a doubt, it was the feel-good win of the season for Houston.
Mills’ squad has yet to win a series since taking two out of three from the Milwaukee Brewers on April 29-May 1 at Minute Maid Park.
Fortunately, that can all change Saturday afternoon when ace Brett Myers (1-3, 4.79 ERA) gets the starting nod for Houston against Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow (2-2, 4.85 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 12:07 p.m. CT.
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