This article was written by Frederick C. Bush
As the Houston Astros prepared to face the Colorado Rockies on June 29, 2007, they were still riding the high of their previous night’s victory over the same squad, which had been highlighted by Craig Biggio surpassing the 3,000-hit mark and Carlos Lee’s 11th-inning walk-off grand slam. Though the Astros were in the middle of what was only their second losing season in 16 years, attendance at Minute Maid Park was still high, due largely to the goodwill engendered by the team’s 2005 National League pennant, and 42,861 fans packed the ballpark for a game that would demonstrate that lightning does sometimes strike twice in the same place.
Any similarity between the previous game and this one was not initially apparent. For one thing, Biggio’s quest for 3,000 hits had been fulfilled; thus, if history were to be made on this evening, it would be through an event of a different sort. Another departure from the night before involved the number of runs allowed by the starting pitchers: Houston’s Roy Oswalt and Colorado’s Aaron Cook had allowed only one run apiece through seven innings on June 28, while on this night’s game, Astros starter Chris Sampson and the Rockies’ Josh Fogg were each roughed up for seven runs and neither would make it to the seventh inning.
Both teams got off to sloppy starts in the top of the first inning. Rockies leadoff batter Willy Taveras reached on a throwing error by shortstop Mark Loretta, but was picked off by Sampson during Kazuo Matsui’s at-bat. Matsui then reached base on an error by Biggio at second base, but he was caught stealing by Astros catcher Eric Munson. Matt Holliday struck out looking to end a half-inning in which Astros errors were negated by the Rockies’ poor baserunning.
The scoring began in the top of the second inning when the Rockies’ Todd Helton led off with a single and Garrett Atkins followed with a two-run homer. That lead was short-lived, however, as Fogg got himself into trouble in the bottom of the inning by walking leadoff hitter Carlos Lee and hitting Loretta with a pitch. After Mike Lamb grounded out, the Rockies intentionally walked Luke Scott to load the bases. The strategy backfired when Munson smashed a double that tied the game, 2-2.
Runs continued to be scored and balls continued to fly over the fence as both starters struggled. Lance Berkman gave the Astros a 3-2 lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the third, but Atkins answered in the fourth with a solo shot of his own – his second home run of the game. The Rockies recaptured the lead, 5-3, later in the inning when Taveras singled in Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta, and then extended their advantage to 6-3 via a Helton solo homer in the fifth.
No lead was safe on this night, though, and the bottom of the fifth was Fogg’s undoing. With one out he hit Biggio with a pitch and gave up a single to Hunter Pence. Berkman knocked in the two runners with a triple and then scored on Lee’s sacrifice fly to tie the game once again, 6-6. Two batters later the Astros retook the lead, 7-6, when Loretta singled and scored on Lamb’s double that knocked Fogg out of the game.
Having been given back the lead, Astros starter Sampson proceeded to give it up by hitting Taveras with two outs in the top of the sixth. Taveras stole second base and advanced to third on Munson’s throwing error, and after Sampson walked Matsui, he was replaced by Mark McLemore, who promptly gave up a game-tying single to Holliday. “I didn’t have all the stuff that I normally have out there,” Sampson said. “I didn’t have my sinker. When the number one pitch isn’t working for you, it’s going to be a tough night. But I did the best I could with what I had.”1
After the Astros failed to score in the bottom of the sixth, McLemore surrendered the lead to the Rockies in the seventh as he gave up hits to Brad Hawpe and Tulowitzki and an RBI single to Ryan Spilborghs that made it an 8-7 game.
The Rockies maintained the 8-7 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, when they brought lightning-rod closer Brian Fuentes into the game. Fuentes had blown three consecutive save opportunities, a streak that included giving up Lee’s grand slam the previous night, but now he was back on the mound for another attempt.2 As he had done the night before, Fuentes retired the first two Astros batters before his troubles started. First Lee drew a four-pitch walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Chris Burke, and then lightning struck in the form of a Loretta home run – to almost the same spot where Lee had hit his shot the night before – that gave the Astros a 9-8 victory. In the 46 years of the Colt .45s/Astros’ existence up to then, it was the first time they had won consecutive games on walk-off home runs.3
A midsummer game between two teams with sub-.500 records had turned into an exciting slugfest that went down to the last batter. Although Fuentes had blown his fourth consecutive save opportunity, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle maintained, “It was a quick, runaway walk to Lee and he didn’t get a ball where he wanted to on Loretta. I’m not going to overanalyze him.”4 In the Astros’ clubhouse, Carlos Lee laid claim to prophetic abilities as he revealed his thoughts before the Astros came to bat in the ninth: “I had a strong feeling that if there were two outs, they probably wouldn’t give me a good pitch to drive. I told (Loretta), ‘I better get on base and be ready, because I have a feeling you’re going to do it today.’”5 It was a nice prediction by Lee and, as Astros manager Phil Garner said, “Nice job by Mark [Loretta].”6
1 Ben DuBose, “Loretta waves magic wand for Astros,” http://houston.astros.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070629&content_id=2056874&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=hou, accessed July 14, 2014.
2 Thomas Harding, “Fuentes, Rockies falter in last inning,” http://colorado.rockies.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070629&content_id=2056738&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=col, accessed July 14, 2014.
3 DuBose, “Loretta waves magic wand for Astros.”
4 Harding, “Fuentes, Rockies falter in last inning.”
5 DuBose, “Loretta waves magic wand for Astros.”