Astros click offensively, but pitching's off-kilter

Astros click offensively, but pitching's off-kilter

Astros click offensively, but pitching's off-kilter
ST. LOUIS -- Houston interim manager Tony DeFrancesco is ready to move on to a more friendly environment.

He's seen enough of St. Louis and the hard-hitting Cardinals.

After dropping a 13-5 decision to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, the Astros are bound for New York, where the Bronx-born DeFrancesco is hoping for better results.

"I'm glad we're headed back to my hometown," he said. "Hopefully, I've got some friends and family to support us."

Houston, which begins a three-game set in New York on Friday, dropped its seventh in a row and fourth under DeFrancesco, who replaced Brad Mills on Sunday.

DeFrancesco, who has piled up 1,235 wins in 17 years in the Minors, is waiting patiently for big league triumph No. 1. Houston has been outscored, 32-8, in his short tenure.

"It will happen," DeFrancesco said of that first win. "Hopefully, sooner than later."

The Astros jumped out to an early 4-0 lead Thursday and were entertaining thoughts of dousing their new field boss with some celebratory bubbly after the game.

But it then turned south on starter Dallas Keuchel (1-6) and reliever Hector Ambriz. The pair combined to give up a total of eight runs (seven runs) in the fourth and fifth innings.

St. Louis scored 13 of the game's last 14 runs after Houston's early cushion.

"We wanted to score some runs, and we did that," said Houston outfielder Ben Francisco, who led the 11-hit attack with a 3-for-5 performance. "They just had a couple big innings. But it's still a loss."

Jose Altuve had two hits and drove in two runs, and Fernando Martinez doubled twice and scored twice to help the Astros break out of a slump. They managed just two runs and eight hits in the previous 18 innings in St. Louis.

The Astros flexed their muscles by jumping out to an early lead against starter Jake Westbrook.

Brett Wallace, who is 24-for-76 lifetime against St. Louis, slapped a two-out double down the right-field line in the first inning and came around to score on a throwing error by Westbrook.

Scott Moore started a two-run uprising in the second when he was plunked by a Westbrook offering. Martinez followed with a double, then Keuchel drove in the first run of his career with a sacrifice fly to left. Moore used a perfect slide to beat the throw from Matt Holliday. Altuve followed with an RBI single to right to push the Astros' lead to 3-0.

Houston padded its advantage in the fourth on a double by Martinez and a sacrifice fly by Altuve.

St. Louis battled to within 4-3 on a three-run homer by David Freese in the fourth. Keuchel sailed through the first 3 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit, before issuing a two-out walk to Carlos Beltran. Yadier Molina followed with a double, then Freese slammed his 17th homer of the season.

The Astros pumped the margin back to two runs on a double by Francisco and a sacrifice fly by Moore in the fifth.

But Keuchel, who had quality starts in his past two appearances, gave up hits to Rafael Furcal and pinch-hitter Ryan Jackson to begin the fifth. A throwing error by Wallace on a Jon Jay bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.

DeFrancesco brought in Ambriz, who promptly surrendered an RBI single to Allen Craig. Holliday followed with the biggest blow of the game -- a bases-clearing double that put the host up for good.

"I had never faced the guy before," Holliday said. "And you're just looking for a pitch you can hit."

Keuchel gave up five earned runs in four-plus innings, but he suffered a disappointing loss after a strong start. He needed just 30 pitches to get through the first three innings.

"I was attacking the zone and everything was working," he said. "But that fifth inning kind of unraveled things. Two singles and an error, it was kind of tough."

DeFrancesco was pleased with the early effort, saying, "He kept the ball down and used his sinker."

St. Louis added four runs in the eighth to put it away.

Despite the loss, DeFrancesco said there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"The good side for us is, we scored five runs, got 11 hits," he said. "Some of the guys got some big hits. There is some life.

"Unfortunately, when the game gets out of hand, it's tough for our guys to bounce back after they've been getting beaten on for a while."

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