Solid pitching all around, key DP propel Astros

Solid pitching all around, key DP propel Astros

Solid pitching all around, key DP propel Astros
HOUSTON -- Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco apologized for being a little late to his postgame news conference Tuesday night, explaining it took him a little bit longer than usual to make his way through the clubhouse and hand out some congratulatory gifts.

DeFrancesco recently began giving out a $200 pair of headphones for the player he identifies as having the greatest impact on a win, but finding just one hero in a 1-0 victory over the Cubs at Minute Maid Park proved to be an impossible task.

"Today was $1,000 worth," he joked.

DeFrancesco was more than happy to hand out headphones to outfielder Justin Maxwell and four of the five relievers who combined with starting pitcher Jordan Lyles to shut out the Cubs on six hits. It's the Astros' third six-pitcher shutout in their history and first since no-hitting the Yankees on June 11, 2003.

The relief pitchers also getting goodies from DeFrancesco were Wesley Wright, Xavier Cedeno, Jose Valdez and Wilton Lopez, who worked the ninth for his fourth save.

"I make it a fun thing on a win," DeFrancesco said. "I'm making them aware that, 'Hey, if you play good, you get a pair of $200 headphones coming to you.' It's a reward for them and a reward for me. I want to give them away and want them to understand performance is important."

The Astros won despite committing four errors, including three by Jimmy Paredes, who got the start at second base for the ailing Jose Altuve. The only run the Astros scored was unearned, and it came on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Maxwell in the third inning.

Houston was also 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times.

"It was a shame to come into a hitters' park and walk out of here with a shutout," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

The Astros had the bases loaded and one out in the third inning when Maxwell lifted a fly ball to center field to score Paredes, who had reached on a single and advanced to third base on a throwing error by catcher Steve Clevenger.

Lyles (4-11) pitched five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out five batters. He was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning after throwing 94 pitches, 27 of which came in the second inning when he worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

"It's another one of those outings you don't like high pitch counts, which means you're not throwing the ball over the plate," Lyles said. "That means it's not going where you want. That's kind of frustrating. I had a lot of guys on base, but at the end of the day, none of them crossed home plate, which is something to build on."

The Cubs squandered a scoring chance in the sixth inning, thanks to some bad baserunning and a heads-up play by Maxwell.

With runners at second and third and one out, Darwin Barney hit a fly ball to Maxwell in center field for the second out. Starlin Castro tagged up from third to try to score, but Dave Sappelt made an ill-advised attempt to advance to third and was thrown out a split second before Castro touched home for what would have been the tying run.

"I think the big play of the game was when he made a nice throw to third base," DeFrancesco said. "Castro, I'm not sure if he wasn't running as hard as he could, but the out was made at third before he scored, so that was a big play for us to give us a chance to have a 1-0 lead."

Maxwell was surprised Sappelt took off for third.

"I knew I had no shot at the plate, and I kind of peaked as I was catching the ball and I thought he was going to stop running, but he kept going all the way to third and [Matt] Dominguez made a great tag and got him before [Castro] got to the plate," he said.

A frustrated Sveum was asked if Castro wasn't going at full speed.

"He must have been because they both have the same speed, and one guy was thrown out by a little bit and [Castro's] foot was in the air when he was going to touch home plate," he said. "It wasn't the brightest thing I've ever seen in baseball."

In other words, Sveum had more of an issue with Sappelt's decision to try to take third than Castro's effort.

"That's a player just not being very smart," he said.

Mickey Storey, who induced the fly ball from Barney, needed two pitches to escape the sixth after Cedeno left with two runners on base. Wright pitched a hitless seventh, and Valdez had his nasty splitter working to strike out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth.

"I think that's how it's going to work," DeFrancesco said. "With all the pitchers we've got in the bullpen, we're going to match them up left-right and give guys a chance to see what they can do on a daily basis."

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.