HOUSTON — Although the Houston Astros trailed by two runs entering the bottom of the ninth inning, manager Brad Mills watched his team demonstrate a high level of resiliency and put together a string of quality at-bats, especially from Angel Sanchez, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday night en route to a 4-3 comeback victory.
Bill Hall, who finished with four hits, kicked off the rally with a one-out single, while Sanchez’s worked an 11-pitch walk to give the Astros runners at first and second with two outs prior to Mills calling for the double steal, which put both in scoring position for Bourn.
After working a full count, Bourn connected for a tying, two-run double down the right-field line off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen (1-1).
The 23-year-old right-hander wound up creating an even worse jam for himself by hitting shortstop Clint Barmes with a pitch, thus setting the stage for Pence’s game-winning looping single to left that pushed Bourn across the plate to ignite the celebration.
“To see the guys come back like they did tonight and put together some really good at-bats at the end is always big,” Mills said. You can’t say enough about Billy Hall. He did an outstanding job with the four hits and getting everything going.
“Getting that big 11-pitch at-bat from Sanchez and Michael Bourn having that great at-bat with the two-strike double down the line was big. Then, you have Barmes getting nailed with the ball up and in, and of course, you can’t say enough about Hunter.
“He had two more hits and the game winner.”
For Bourn, he knew it was going to be a close play at the plate.
“I knew it was going to be close,” he said. “Left field is not deep. Plus, Tony Gwynn Jr. has a pretty good arm out there. They had just put him in for defense, so he was out there for a reason. I knew they would be blocking the plate, too. The ball was where he could block it pretty good, but I had a little time to get around him. So, I slid past him and used my hand to touch the plate.”
Houston starter Bud Norris tossed seven quality innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts over 116 pitches (72 for strikes) in a no-decision effort.
“It’s a team win,” Norris said. “I went out there and competed for this team. Great night for Bill Hall. Bournie had the big hit and Hunter had the walk-off. At the end of the day, it’s a win for the team.”
Reliever Jeff Fulchino (1-1) stepped up and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the Astros to earn his first victory of 2011.
In what turned out to be a solid pitchers’ duel between Norris and standout left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the second, with cleanup hitter Matt Kemp blasting a solo homer over the right-field wall.
Astros catcher Humberto Quintero made it a new ballgame at 1-1 with a third-inning RBI single to right center that scored Hall.
Manager Don Mattingly elected to pull Kershaw after six stellar innings, as the Dallas native allowed an earned run on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 84 pitches (54 for strikes) to lower his ERA to 2.96 in a no-decision effort.
Andre Ethier broke a 1-for-30 slump with an RBI single in the seventh inning to put Los Angeles in control, but a crucial fielding error by Bourn in center enabled third baseman Russ Mitchell to also score on the play, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
Relievers Mike MacDougal and Matt Guerrier combined for two scoreless innings, but Houston forced Jansen to throw 36 pitches in the ninth to spark a three-run rally and escape with the victory.
Although the Astros posted a 2-5 record on the seven-game road trip, they’ve bounced back to win three of the last four and have put themselves in position to win consecutive series following a strong showing north of the border in Toronto over the weekend.
“Getting that pitch, getting that hit and making that play … everything is right there,” Mills said. “You could see that on our road trip, even in the games we did lose. At the same time, the guys know it’s right there and they can come back and do it.
“It was nice to see them do it tonight.”
J.A. Happ (3-5, 5.30 ERA) will get the starting nod for Houston on Tuesday night against Dodgers All-Star right-hander Chad Billingsley (2-4, 3.47 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
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