Astros pound the Mets

August 23, 2008 8:21:05 PM PDT
So much for the notion that it's best not to dwell on a bad start. Despite throwing a gem in Houston's 8-3 victory over the New York Mets on Saturday night, Brandon Backe stood in front of his locker in the Astros clubhouse beating himself up.

"I've got a long way to go to redeem myself," he said. "I'm not going to sit on a good start and say things are better. I'm proud of this start and I'm going to take the positives to my next start, but I'm not totally redeemed."

Nevertheless, Backe rebounded from an awful performance last week to shut down surging New York, and the Astros got a three-run homer from Lance Berkman in their 8-3 victory.

David Newhan added his first homer of the season and Miguel Tejada drove in a pair of runs for the Astros, who are 3-5 following an eight-game winning streak.

"The key for us was to continue to give ourselves a chance with runners in scoring position," said Berkman, who helped rough up John Maine and finished with three hits and four RBIs. "Somebody is eventually going to get a hit."

The Mets lost for just the second time in 12 games and their NL East lead was cut to 1½ games over Philadelphia. Brian Schneider hit a two-run homer, his fourth in his last six starts, and Ryan Church added a pair of hits and an RBI in his second game back.

Maine struggled again with a mild strain to his right rotator cuff that has already landed him on the disabled list. Mets manager Jerry Manuel jokingly said before the game that a good outing from the right-hander would be 100 pitches - over nine innings.

He threw 105 but didn't make it out of the sixth, allowing a season-high 10 hits and eight runs.

"Is John Maine 100 percent right now? No. Is he going to hurt himself? Probably not," Manuel said. "Does he want to pitch? Yes.

He wants to gut it out. I am comfortable with anybody that wants to gut it out. Period. But I do feel that if that is not enough for us to win, then I have to make some decisions about that."

Maine said his problem was throwing the ball down the middle of the plate more than his shoulder, and doesn't plan to miss any starts.

"It's just kind of learning to deal with it," he said. "It won't cause any serious structural damage, but it's a nagging thing that's going to be there the rest of the year."

Backe (8-12) has been awful one game and excellent the next, so it figured that he'd throw well after matching a career high by allowing 11 runs last week against Arizona.

The right-hander didn't permit a base runner until Daniel Murphy drew a two-out walk in the fifth, the first time the Mets put anybody on base after Schneider's home run off Roy Oswalt in the second inning Friday night. Oswalt retired his final 20 batters in a complete-game loss, and Backe set down his first 14.

"It's a little bit easier when he gets runs early," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "It allows your pitcher to go out there and relax."

Maine (10-8) cruised through the first inning on eight pitches before Berkman doubled leading off the second. Geoff Blum followed with a run-scoring double.

The big blow came in the third, when Backe led off with a single and Darin Erstad walked. Both moved up on Michael Bourn's sacrifice and Tejada followed with an RBI single before Berkman hit a 94 mph fastball over the left-field wall for his 26th home run.

Newhan's drive to right leading off the sixth was his first since May 12, 2007, when he was with the Mets. Four straight singles capped by Berkman's base hit made it 8-1.

Schneider's two-run homer in the eighth was his sixth of the year. It chased Backe, who allowed three runs and five hits in seven-plus innings.

"It was just a matter of him throwing strikes," Berkman said. "When he's getting ahead of guys he's as good as anybody you want to put out there."

Notes: Houston improved to 54-24 when scoring at least four runs.... The Mets decided to wait on activating 2B Luis Castillo (strained hip flexor) for at least a few more days, Manuel said. ... Mets RHP Mike Pelfrey probably will be pushed back in the rotation to avoid starting against Florida, a team he's struggled with.