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Astros aiming to ride new-found momentum

Astros aiming to ride new-found momentum

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Astros aiming to ride new-found momentum
NEW YORK -- The Astros came to Citi Field with momentum on their side Thursday, fueled in part by a Wednesday night victory that saw them excel in every phase of the game.

Houston pitched well, made some timely defensive plays and earned its second straight win over the Mets on a home run by Hunter Pence, an asset that has been exceedingly rare in the first two weeks.

The Astros are 6-4 in their last 10 games after a 1-7 start, a rebound that has taken pressure off the individual players and allowed them to focus on the day-to-day business of fielding a competitive team. Manager Brad Mills said he's been happy with the way his team has responded, and he said a win like Wednesday night can go a long way in the clubhouse.

"It's fun to see all the defensive plays and everything come together," said Mills of his team's mindset. "It's good to string those hits together and put some runs on the board against a tough pitcher. It's good to make those defensive plays, and then Hunter with a big blast to give us a lead in the eighth. Those are all fun things. Not just for the people in the stands, but for us as well."

The home run ball must've meant even more to the Astros, because they just haven't done it a lot this season. Pence is the only Astro with more than one home run this season, and only two big league teams have logged fewer homers than Houston (nine). Houston is middle-of-the-road in batting average and holds out hope that the power will surface soon.

"I think it's something kind of fluky. We may not have hit for a lot of power, but it did win a game for us [Wednesday] night," said hitting coach Mike Barnett. "The thing I'm happy about is our situational hitting. I think we're 20-for-33 with a runner on third base and less than two outs, and we're like 6-for-7 at moving the runner on sacrifice bunts. We've been very good, and those are the things we have to continue to do. That's really how we're putting runs on the board, by taking advantage of those situations."

"We hope it works itself out," added Mills. "We're still doing a lot of things right, still seeing a lot of pitches and having some quality at-bats. At times, there have been games where we haven't been [doing those things], but for the most part, we are. Having some good at-bats is going to lead to more hits and obviously to some more runs. We hope the long ball comes into play as we move along. But when you get them in games like [Wednesday] night, you see how important it is to be able to get them."

Barnett, in his first season as hitting coach after a two-year stint as the team's Minor League hitting coordinator, said that his players have been really diligent about their approach. Barnett singled out second-year first baseman Brett Wallace -- who went into Thursday's game with a .293 batting average -- as one of his most improved players.

"The thing that I love about Wallace is he's very level-headed," he said. "He understands what he's trying to do day in and day out. He understands what pitchers are trying to do to him, and he's able to come back and talk about every pitch in an at-bat to understand what happened and how things went in the at-bat. Anytime he gets a little bit away from something that he's been doing, he's able to make the correction right away. And he can understand it from the previous two or three swings.

"He's not overly analytical, which is a good thing. I think he's got some very simple keys that he sticks with day in and day out, and when you've got that type of ability and that type of work ethic -- and that aptitude especially -- that makes my job easy."

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