Astros spin third consecutive shutout behind Norris

Astros spin third consecutive shutout behind Norris

Astros spin third consecutive shutout behind Norris
CHICAGO -- Perhaps it's only fitting the Astros are winding down their time in the National League with the kind of dominant pitching the club was known for during its heyday as a contender in the league in the 1980s and again in the 2000s.

Bud Norris kept the club's terrific pitching streak going by throwing six scoreless innings in his final start of the season to lead the Astros to their third consecutive shutout victory, 3-0, over the Cubs on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

The Astros have won five of their last six games and will enter the season's final day of the season -- and their last day in the NL after 51 seasons -- trying to avoid setting a franchise record in losses. They're sitting at 106 losses, which matches last year's total.

"I want them to leave this season with something positive," said Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco, who will manage his final game for Houston on Wednesday. "Winning the series at the end, beating Milwaukee, and winning this series here with a chance to sweep [Wednesday], it's all good memories for these guys."

By winning four of the first five games, the Astros are assured their first winning road trip of the season.

It's the first time the Astros have shut out an opponent for three games in a row since Sept. 23-25, 1986, a run that was capped by Mike Scott's no-hitter to clinch the NL West. Houston's 27 consecutive scoreless innings is its longest such streak since July 28-Aug. 1, 2010.

Jordan Lyles set the tone on Sunday by throwing a shutout in Milwaukee, and Lucas Harrell and three relievers combed on a two-hitter in Monday's series opener at Wrigley.

"We're trying to end this thing strong and play it all the way through," Norris said. "Lyles had a great start in Milwaukee and Harrell last night, and I just tried to pick up from there and hopefully we can do the same tomorrow. The guys picked me up in the bullpen and we got some runs early, which is always helpful as a starter to have a little cushion."

Norris won his final two starts of the year after losing 12 consecutive decisions, battling health problems along the way. He allowed four hits and two walks and struck out four and finished the season with a 2.72 ERA and 35 strikeouts in his last six starts, including 13 1/3 scoreless innings.

"Deja vu [from] last night," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Not a lot of good at-bats, not a lot of quality at-bats again and left some guys, striking out with guys in scoring position. It kind of typifies the whole season these last two nights, swinging the bats."

Norris said finishing strong goes a long way to erase the disappointment of his midseason struggles.

"You work hard to get here to this point, to get all the way through it and to finish it," he said. "The last two went really well and I know I still have it in there and a long way to go down the road. Any time you can head to the offseason on a healthy note and a stretch like that, you're excited and you want to get back out there again. It will come next year in Spring Training."

Astros relievers Xavier Cedeno, Chuckie Fick, Wesley Wright and Wilton Lopez finished off the shutout, with Lopez getting his career-high 10th save.

"I can't say enough about our bullpen today," DeFrancesco said.

The Astros scored twice in the second inning against Cubs starter Chris Volstad when Jason Castro homered to right field with two outs and Justin Maxwell reached on a two-base error and scored on Tyler Greene's single. Brian Bogusevic walked in the eighth and scored on a wild pitch.

"Castro, for me, was the star," DeFrancesco said. "The home run got us going and he picked a runner off second base. We've just had a good road trip so far, either way. We're going to finish strong, we're going to finish at .500 (in September/October) and we're excited about the future and what's going on for next season."

The Astros went 13-14 in September and are 2-0 in October. They won just eight games in July and August combined.

"It's hard to play all the way through with the mental grind and physical grind, but it speaks well of these guys and the character that they're going to play all the way through," Norris said. "We have one more to go."

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.