Rewind: Astros at Giants, Game 3

A pitcher's duel becomes a laugher in the final game against the Astros at SBC Park. Three strong Giants starting pitching performances turn up two wins and a loss, the punctuation of an unexpected series marking the loss.

Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens back to back to back in a series. Such an idea could draw as many fans to the ballpark as it could repel them, depending on the team unlucky enough to play against the Houston Astros and their three consecutive aces. When the Astros rolled into SBC Park this weekend groans, sighs and laments sounded from the Giants faithful. An already embarrassing season was sure to get worse, film at eleven.

The only hope the Giants had going into this series was throwing their two best starters at Houston’s big bats, right-hander Jason Schmidt and young lefty Noah Lowry. Small positives such as Randy Winn’s quick adjustment to life in the National League (9 hits in 17 at-bats and a sure hand in centerfield) and a new, improved Ray Durham hitting everything in sight with ten hits in as many games gave something for the team to hold onto during this tough series. It wasn’t inconceivable to expect Schmidt and Lowry to at least hold their own; since the All-Star break Schmidt’s win-loss record stands at 2-1 with 35 strikeouts, and Lowry has an ERA of 1.40 in five starts, four of which he’s struck out at least 7 batters. By now you already know their stories—Schmidt and Lowry rode a shutout streak of 20 innings before Tyler Walker blew it in the ninth inning of Lowry’s game yesterday, both starts good for wins. Two exclamation points the Giants sorely needed.

Going into Sunday’s game nobody expected the good luck, the magic or whatever kept the Giants alive to keep going. Especially not when it was learned scheduled starter Brett Tomko was scratched due to a foot injury and seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens looming on the hill for the Astros. Unknown right-hander Brian Cooper was summoned from AAA Fresno to start in his place. Cooper is no stranger to the big leagues, having pitched in Major League Baseball since 2000, but to the tune of an unimpressive 5-13 record and an ERA over 6. He had to be doing something right with the Grizzlies to be called up, with four earned runs in his last seventeen innings pitched. Still, nobody expected the type of game these two pitchers would have.

Scoring got off to a quick start, each starter surrendering a run in the first inning. Astros left-fielder Chris Burke got it going with a double. Lance Berkman followed with a walk, and right fielder Jason Lane, from Santa Rosa, doubled to left to score Burke. Former Giants shortstop Luis Vizcaino grounded out to second to end the inning, and Cooper escaped relatively unscathed. The Giants retaliated against Clemens in a hurry with Randy Winn’s leadoff double. He reached third on an error by Lane, his aggressive play almost costing him the sin of making the first out at third base. It proved to be the right play to make as left fielder Pedro Feliz hit into a fielder’s choice to score Winn from third.

It was almost like looking in a mirror with the two starters. They matched batter for batter, going seven innings, allowing one run and walking two. Clemens struck out four hitters to Cooper’s three. What the box score doesn’t say is how Cooper’s defense made his afternoon. Cooper does not have blow-away stuff, and to be successful he needed the eight men behind him to lend him a hand, and they did just that. Durham showed off his healthy legs by rushing in on a Berkman popup, and he caught Burke sleeping at third. With a flip to Lance Niekro at first the Giants retired the side for Cooper. More defensive sparkle came after shortstop Adam Everett’s leadoff single in the fifth inning. Jason Ellison, playing a lot of right field since the Winn trade, came in quick on a ball that was sure to be a bloop off the bat of catcher Brad Ausmus to make a tremendous diving grab. He moved quickly enough to double off Everett at first.

The chorus of “COOOOOP” ringing out over SBC Park to hail the mystery starter, who cared if Clemens was still on the mound, and if Berkman and All-Star third baseman Morgan Ensberg remained quiet at the plate? The weekend belonged to the Giants and in a tough season, you have to hang onto whatever positives you can find.

Unfortunately with this team, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Usually reliable left-hander Scott Eyre relieved Cooper in the eighth and gave up two hits and a walk to set up a three-run homer to Lane. The turning point of the game could have been the epic at-bat Burke had against Eyre. Burke ran the count full and fought off pitches to stay alive before he roped a double to center. It set up Houston’s chance to score seven runs against the Giants bullpen. Jeff Fassero came in after Eyre’s two-thirds of an inning of tragedy and fared no better, allowing four hits and three earned runs. National League Rookie of the Year candidate Willy Tavares racked up two runs batted in and later scored on Ensberg’s single to center field. Brad Lidge had not seen action all weekend due to the Giants’ outstanding starting efforts and came in to retire the Giants quietly in the bottom of the ninth. Dreams of a sweep they never saw coming fell apart, but if you’re the Giants, you have to take the loss in stride, as you stride out of town and into the longest—and toughest--road trip of the year, thirteen games in fourteen days, and three out of four teams they’ll face are contenders in the National League; St. Louis, Florida and Atlanta. They can take with them the confidence built by their solid starters and skillful defense. They need all the help they can get. Player of the Game:
Brian Cooper. The emergency starter gave manager Felipe Alou everything he could have hoped for, and more. Five, maybe six innings for a quality start is what most expected. Five of his seven strong innings he went 1-2-3. That has to feel good for a guy who’s bounced around as much as he has. He even added a single leading off the third against Clemens, his first Major League hit.

Game notes: Alou started former American Leaguers Deivi Cruz, Winn (13 for 40) and Durham (12 for 43) due to their experience with Clemens. Others formerly of the junior circuit such as JT Snow and Omar Vizquel sat, as Cruz has a better average against Clemens at 11 for 37 and Snow has all of three hits in forty-one at-bats facing him…word around the Giants clubhouse is that injured closer Armando Benitez could be activated during the road trip. The big man’s road back to the big club included two rehab starts with high-A San Jose and two simulated games this weekend. He’s also not looking so big anymore, having slimmed down at the urging of Giants trainer Stan Conte…More DL news: embattled starter Kirk Reuter was placed on the DL to make room for Cooper’s call up…today was the second annual Strike Out Cancer Day. Unfortunately Tomko was not available to start on the day his charcoal drawing of Giants catcher Mike Matheny was presented before the game. The work of art will be auctioned off for charity…Eric Davis, a cancer survivor and former Giant, was in the house in celebration of the event.

Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 23rd season of fandom and first where she's had the honor to write for the Giants on Love/hate mail can be sent to, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.

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