Astros can't rebound from Harrell's rough start

Astros can't rebound from Harrell's rough start

Astros can't rebound from Harrell's rough start
ST. LOUIS -- Lucas Harrell was all set to put on a show for his family and friends Tuesday night.

The Houston right-hander, who was born and still lives in Springfield, Mo., about 3 1/2 hours from Busch Stadium, was able to finally scrounge up enough tickets to satisfy his hometown entourage, which totaled around 35.

"I kept borrowing tickets from other players who had extras," he said.

Unfortunately for the Harrell clan, the Cardinals spoiled the party.

Harrell, starting for the first time in his home state, allowed six earned runs in five innings as the Cardinals blanked the Astros, 7-0, in the first game of a three-game set before 35,370 at Busch Stadium.

Harrell surrendered eight hits in a 104-pitch stint. He walked three and struck out three.

The 27-year-old, who fell to 10-9, had given up two runs or fewer in his previous seven starts.

But he came up short on Tuesday.

"I felt like I let everybody down," Harrell said. "I wasn't at my best. I'm very disappointed, frustrated and disappointed -- all of those words come into play."

Harrell gave up four runs on six hits in the first inning. He surrendered two runs in the third before settling down to retire the last seven batters he faced.

A graduate of Ozark High, Harrell got a chance to spend a few nights at home before the start, driving from St. Louis to Springfield on Sunday night before returning to St. Louis early Tuesday afternoon.

Houston interim manager Tony DeFrancesco felt that Harrell might have been trying too hard in front of his hometown fans.

"He looked like he was a little fired up today," DeFrancesco said. "I know he had a big group out there. You always want to impress the people that you love. He tried the best he could.

"Unfortunately, he was a little too anxious early."

Actually, Harrell was much more effective over his final 35 pitches. He set the side down in order in the fourth and fifth with a strikeout in each inning.

"I felt like I battled really hard," Harrell said. "My last two innings, I got back to making good pitches and keeping the ball down. The last two innings, that's what I'm going to take away from this one."

Harrell, who surrendered nine earned runs in a 13-5 loss at Colorado on May 30, ranks second in the NL in wins among rookie pitchers. He has recorded 10 of Houston's 39 wins.

St. Louis' hitters were well aware of Harrell's recent run and came into the game with an aggressive approach.

"We watched video of his last start and he was nasty," second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "We knew we had a challenge ahead and we wanted to get off on the right foot."

Harrell was coming off an impressive eight-inning, one-run effort in a 10-1 win at Wrigley Field on Aug. 14. But instead of continuing the streak, he posted his worst outing in the last 13 starts.

Houston, which has lost five in a row, struggled against St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright, who recorded his second shutout of the season. Wainwright allowed five hits, struck out 12 and walked one.

He was in control from start to finish.

"He threw every pitch he wanted in every location he wanted," Houston second baseman Jose Altuve said. "We tried to be aggressive early in the count, but we didn't get a lot of hits. Give him the credit."

The Astros' best chance came in the sixth when Steve Pearce led off with a pinch-hit double. Wainwright then retired the next three batters.

Houston got back-to-back runners on for the first time in the game when Justin Maxwell and Jason Castro singled with two out in the ninth. Wainwright then fanned Ben Francisco to end the game.

Francisco started a rally in the fifth with a one-out double into the gap in right-center. But Fernando Martinez struck out and Tyler Greene grounded out to end the threat.

Altuve led off the fourth with single, but never left first base. He has hit safely in 10 of 13 games against St. Louis with a career average of .393.

Jon Jay triggered St. Louis' first-inning uprising with a leadoff double. He went to third on a groundout and scored on Harrell's third balk of the season. The call seemed to unnerve Harrell, who then gave up five successive singles. Schumaker lined a two-run single off Altuve's glove at second to push the lead to 4-0.

"I tried to stop it, but it was hit too hard," Altuve said. "I was just trying to make the play."

St. Louis added two more runs in the third on a pair of walks and a single by Yadier Molina, who finished 3-for-4.

Houston came in with an 8-7 mark in St. Louis since 2010, the second-best winning percentage in the NL at Busch Stadium behind San Francisco at 6-5.

Steve Overbey is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.