Over the years, facing the Yankees has proven to be one of the biggest challenges of Interleague Play for the Astros. And it hasn't gotten any easier in 2010.
The Yankees have won seven of eight against the Astros since the beginning of Interleague Play, including the first two games of this season's matchup this weekend. Houston will get another chance for retaliation in Sunday's finale.
The Astros, despite their stumble in the Bronx, are still in a good place to end the hex. Houston has still won four of its last seven contests and has seen its offense come alive on this road trip.
The Astros will certainly face an uphill battle against Phil Hughes, who has been among the toughest pitchers in the American League this year. Hughes has won four straight starts, including his last against the Orioles, when he admitted he didn't have his best stuff. But backed by a tough lineup and allowing just three runs, he still pitched well enough to win.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"My stuff just wasn't great," Hughes said. "Command-wise, I was a little bit off. You have these days, and you battle and hope that we do score enough runs. You've just got to tip your cap to them. They took a different approach than they did last game that I faced them. They were more aggressive and didn't let counts get too deep."
The lesson for the Astros, then, is to be aggressive early in the count and not let themselves get in a hole against Hughes. Hughes showed last week that, even without his best stuff, he's still a tough pitcher to solve, once he has a hitter in a hole.
His opponent on Sunday, Brian Moehler may not have the same results to show for his starts this season, but in his last start, he also showed his ability to battle when the stuff wasn't there. Working against the Rockies, Moehler got beat up early, allowing three runs right off the bat. But he made the adjustment and didn't allow any more damage the rest of the way.
"In the first inning, they got some hits on some balls that were not bad pitches," Moehler said. "They just were looking out for them, and they put them in play. So I told [catcher Kevin] Cash after the first inning, 'We need to keep them honest and go inside a little more.' It seemed to help a little bit.
Even the opposing offense took note of Moehler's ability to make a change within a single inning, something that could be valuable against the Yankees' tough lineup.
"I think he just made an adjustment, because seriously, I thought we were going to score over seven runs," the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez said. "We just shut it down right after that. We couldn't get any more runners on base."
Astros: Top of the order comes alive
Despite the offensive success the Astros have enjoyed during this road trip, the top of the order has been struggling. Entering Saturday, Michael Bourn was hitting .188 (3-for-16) through the first five games of the trip, and Jeff Keppinger was hitting .167 (3-for-18) But the Astros knew they'd come around and, sure enough, in Saturday's game, Keppinger went 3-for-4, including an RBI double. "They're at the top of the order for a reason, because of the history they have and they're good hitters," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "At the same time, we [knew it was] coming, and rather soon, because of who they are."
Yankees: Gardner gets back into action
Among the Yankees' injury issues, Brett Gardner could be the first to return to the starting lineup. Gardner wasn't in the starting nine on Saturday, but entered in the fifth inning when Marcus Thames left the game with what was revealed to be a strained right hamstring. An MRI came back negative. Gardner, who sprained his left thumb in last Tuesday's win over the Orioles, has a good chance to return as a starter for Sunday's finale. "It feels good," Gardner said before Saturday's game. "I should be available to play today and be in there tomorrow." ... Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, won't be back nearly as soon, with tendinitis in his right-hip flexor muscle. Manager Joe Girardi said Rodriguez's situation is purely day-to-day at this point. "He's not ready to go. We'll continue to evaluate him every day to see what availability we have of him every day."
Houston has not won a game against the Yankees since 2003. ... Hunter Pence leveled his 10th homer of the season in Sunday's loss. ... Jorge Posada's homer was the 250th of his career, tying him with Graig Nettles for 7th in the Yankees' career-homer standings.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.