Astros battle, but comeback bid falls just short

Astros battle, but comeback bid falls just short

Astros battle, but comeback bid falls just short
MILWAUKEE -- J.D. Martinez leaned over a television monitor in the Astros' clubhouse, trying to get a better glimpse of the controversial final play of Monday's game. Each time Martinez watched the replay at first base, he came to the same conclusion.

"It was bang-bang," he said.

Martinez was nipped at first base to end the game after a spectacular diving stop by shortstop Cesar Izturis, whose throw across the diamond appeared to beat Martinez by a hair and strand the potential tying run at third base and seal the Brewers' 8-7 win over the Astros.

Houston first-base coach Bobby Meacham and Martinez protested frantically while the Brewers celebrated, and manager Brad Mills sprinted onto the field to argue as well. The play was one of several close calls that went against the Astros, who lost for the 13th time in 14 games.

"I thought he was safe from where I'm at," Mills said. "The umpire has to make the call right now, in his real time, and we come in and look at it on video three or four times and everybody still says it's bang-bang. I had to talk to [umpire Brian Knight] about it."

Had Martinez beaten the throw, it would have capped a stirring ninth-inning comeback against Milwaukee's beleaguered bullpen. The Astros rallied for three runs in the ninth and had runners at first and third base when Martinez hit a grounder into the hole and was thrown out.

Izturis saved the game with his dive and throw, but the end-of-the-glove catch by Corey Hart at first base was equally as important.

"Great play by Izzy, great play by Corey, and I know it was a snow cone," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It was sitting up there at the top of his glove, so they sure aren't easy."

Astros starter Bud Norris threw six scoreless innings before the Brewers scored four times in the seventh -- three charged to Norris -- and then added four more in the eighth against Houston's bullpen to take an 8-4 lead.

Livan Hernandez, who was in spring camp with the Astros, began the ninth and was pulled after two batters reached with one out. Kameron Loe didn't do much better, walking a batter before giving up an RBI double to Maxwell that cut the lead to 8-6.

Steve Pearce, who went 2-for-3 with three runs scored, followed with his second sacrifice fly of the game to cut the lead to 8-7, putting the tying run at third base.

"We were swinging tonight," Pearce said. "We had some big hits and we battled in the ninth inning and didn't give up. Even though we didn't get the win, we battled our butts off."

The Astros got sacrifice flies by Pearce in the first and Jose Altuve in the third to take a 2-0 lead against Brewers starter Marco Estrada, and Scott Moore walloped his fifth homer of the season in the seventh to make it 3-0.

Norris gave up just two infield hits into the seventh before allowing the first three batters in the inning to reach, including a two-run homer by Nyjer Morgan that made it 3-2. Francisco Cordero gave up a pair of runs in relief to lose, and Xavier Cedeno allowed three runs in the eighth, including a three-run homer to Cody Ransom.

What really sunk the Astros were the two plays before the Ransom homer. The Brewers put down consecutive sac bunts, but the Astros couldn't get an out either time. Cedeno tried unsuccessfully to throw to third base for an out on a bunt by Morgan -- Mills wanted him to throw to first base -- and then Cedeno couldn't field a bunt hit by Izturis.

"The big thing tonight defensively that hurt us is we didn't get an out on those two bunts," Mills said. "We get an out on a couple of sacrifice bunts, we may lose the lead, but at the same time, we keep them close. Offensively, the guys battled all day long."

Cordero has appeared in five games since joining the Astros in a trade with the Blue Jays earlier this month, and he's gone 0-3 with an 18.00 ERA and three blown saves.

"Right now we have a lot of guys down in the bullpen who aren't available," Mills said. "We're going to work with him, we're going to get him in situations he can be successful and go from there. I don't think that worry comes into it as much. The guys in our bullpen have battled. At times they've struggled and other times they've done pretty good."

Norris pitched well for the second straight start, but still hasn't won since May 21. He went six-plus innings and allowed four hits and three runs, but the Astros have lost the last 10 games he's started. He's allowed just nine hits and four runs in 13 innings in his last two starts.

"I'm trying to get out there and win because I'm a competitor," Norris said. "I know these guys are playing hard behind me. They played a great game and battled all the way back from the deficit and all the way to the final out ... literally. We're in a tough stretch and have to get back out there tomorrow."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.