Astros can't hang on, fall in extras

Astros can't hang on, fall in extras to White Sox

CHICAGO -- Since arriving to U.S. Cellular Field on Friday, the Houston Astros have repeatedly fielded questions regarding comparisons between last year's World Series with the White Sox and their current Interleague matchup with the very team that swept them in October.

The Astros insist they aren't thinking about what happened last year, but if they really want the questions to go away, it would help if they didn't repeat a few key moments that led to their demise during the World Series.

The Astros lost on Saturday, 6-5, in 10 innings. The loss was due in large part to Chad Qualls, who entered the game with the bases loaded in the seventh frame and gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Joe Crede, which tied the game at 5.

In Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, Qualls gave up a grand slam to Paul Konerko, also in the seventh inning, also attempting to preserve a terrific starting pitching performance. The White Sox won that game, too.

But back to the present. Alex Cintron's game-winning bases-loaded single off Dan Wheeler in the 10th is a mere footnote, compared to the seventh, when this game was essentially lost.

Until Crede stepped to the plate, Saturday was all about rookie right-hander Taylor Buchholz. He officially was charged with four runs, but he pitched far better than that. Had Qualls not thrown a first-pitch slider right down the center of the plate upon entering the game with the bases loaded, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

Instead, Crede effortlessly knocked the ball out of the park, much to the excitement of a sellout crowd of 38,377, who watched the White Sox overcome a not-so-insurmountable four-run deficit. With the momentum permanently shifted toward the home team, breaking a 5-5 tie was no problem for the best team in baseball.

"I knew with my sinker, we were probably going to end up throwing sinkers," Qualls said. "[Catcher Brad] Ausmus called for a first-pitch slider, and I figured I could throw a slider and get him off the first-pitch fastball and hopefully get him to ground out. It was just a bad pitch."

Qualls knew Crede, relishing the bases-loaded situation, would probably be swinging on the first pitch, and he thought an offspeed offering would be the safe bet.

"Unfortunately, I threw a really bad strike," he said. "Bad execution."

That bad strike erased one of Buchholz's best outings of the season. He tied his season high with eight strikeouts and had faced one hitter over the minimum through six innings. Scott Podsednik led off the game with a base hit and scored on Jim Thome's sacrifice fly, and from there, Buchholz allowed only a base hit in the fourth, to Thome, who was erased when Konerko grounded into a double play.

Buchholz nearly escaped the seventh, too. He began the frame by striking out Cintron, but he walked Thome and allowed consecutive hits to Konerko and Jermaine Dye, who blooped a single to no-man's land in shallow right.

Up stepped Crede, and in one swing, the Astros' comfortable four-run lead was gone, as was Buchholz's fifth win.

"He didn't lose it," manager Phil Garner said. "He pitched well enough to win and did a fine job. The story of today was we didn't put them away. We had a ton of hanging sliders, too, and we didn't hit 'em. We didn't put them away.

"This kid did a good job, We had five runs on the board, and we didn't stop them when we had a chance to stop them. We didn't put them out of the game when we had many chances to do that, either."

The Astros stranded 12. After their three-run fourth, they produced six baserunners and failed to score. In Garner's view, the problems both in this game and in the club's last eight games -- six of which were losses -- are team-wide.

"It's an epidemic," Garner said. "It's the whole ballclub. It's not just [Qualls]. We can't lay it on his shoulders. It's the whole club. It's one at-bat, it's one pitch, it's one play.

"I'm upset at our offense, because our offense is having a some really bad at-bats. We've had a whole series of bad at-bats. We're swinging at [bad pitches] on our toes when we've got the advantage. And, we're not pitching well. We're equally responsible. We had chances today to put this team out of the game. When we had a chance to keep the game in check, we didn't do that either."

The Astros are a game under .500 and since sweeping the Cubs at Wrigley Field two weeks ago have lost three consecutive Interleague series.

"We might just be trying to find ourselves," said Mike Lamb, who was 4-for-6. "I don't know how many times Chris Burke's batted third. I haven't batted second a whole lot in my professional career. We're mixing and matching, trying to get things going. We had at least 10 hits today. We scored five runs against one of the best teams in the American League. We did a decent job. I thought we had the game won."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.