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Astros bullpen falters in seventh

Astros bullpen falters in seventh

ANAHEIM -- Dave Borkowski's bread and butter is his ability to throw strikes. With a fastball that rarely hits 90 mph, he's not going to stun many opponents with overpowering stuff.

On most occasions, he throws strikes early in the count, and that has worked quite well for him. But on Wednesday, Borkowski threw only seven strikes to five Angels batters, which turned a two-run lead into a four-run deficit and eventually, an 8-4 Astros loss.

Borkowski entered the game in the seventh with runners on first and second and issued three straight walks. He walked Terry Evans on five pitches, loading the bases for Reggie Willits, who was patient enough to work Borkowski to a seven-pitch walk. This narrowed Houston's lead to 4-3.

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Borkowski then threw four consecutive balls to Chone Figgins, tying the game at 4. The Angels took the lead on Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly, and they blew the game open behind a three-run homer by Vladimir Guerrero, the only hit of the six-run frame.

By all accounts, a very un-Borkowski-like night. Prior to this outing, the right-hander had inherited 11 runners this season and only three had scored.

"I was totally surprised by that," manager Phil Garner said. "He had a really hard time finding the plate. He couldn't throw a strike. He finally threw one to the wrong guy [Guerrero].

"It was a crazy inning, particularly with Borkowski. He normally throws strikes. You rarely see him miss like he did."

Prior to this game, Borkowski had moved up the food chain a bit in the bullpen. With Brad Lidge out with a strained abdomen muscle, Dan Wheeler moved from the setup role back to closer. That puts Chad Qualls in most setup situations, which means Borkowski and Rick White can expect to be called upon more in the seventh.

"It was one of those games," Borkowski said. "I wasn't missing by 6 feet or anything, I was just missing. They were balls. It's frustrating. After Wandy [Rodriguez] pitched such a good game, you want to go out there, make a pitch, get a couple outs, get Wandy a win. At least get us to where we could tack on some more runs.

"I didn't do that. It was really kind of embarrassing to go out there and walk three straight, walk guys in. That shouldn't happen."

The inning negated an impressive performance by Rodriguez, who before the seventh frame had limited the Angels to two runs, courtesy of Evans' first big-league hit -- a two-run homer in the bottom of the second.

The outing wasn't without controversy, however. In the sixth, Rodriguez threw what he thought was strike three to Figgins, but home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called it a ball. Rodriguez paused, bent over with his legs straight and appeared to fiddle with his shoelace.

Hernandez, seemingly feeling Rodriguez was showing him up, gestured toward the mound and said, according to Rodriguez, "Don't say anything to me like that."

Brad Ausmus then went to the mound to talk to his pitcher, and Hernandez soon headed that way, too. In Garner's view, that wasn't a typical umpire visit to break up a conversation between pitcher and catcher. The manager jumped out of the dugout and headed toward Hernandez, seemingly yelling for him to leave Rodriguez alone.

Garner, who crossed over the first-base line, was charged with a visit to the mound, even though he maintained his intent was to talk to Hernandez, not Rodriguez.

"I'm going to have to get clarification from the league on that," Garner said. "Angel was charging my pitcher. He was angry, and he was charging. I didn't say a word to Wandy. I tried to get between he and Wandy. I clearly wasn't out there to make a visit. I was out there to keep Angel from charging Wandy."

Garner called Hernandez's actions "totally unprofessional."

Hernandez was not available for comment after the game. According to the locker room attendant, the umpiring crew left immediately after the game to catch a red-eye flight.

The Astros had a 4-2 lead through four innings. Hunter Pence hit his seventh homer of the year in the first frame, a solo shot off Ervin Santana. Pence and Lance Berkman knocked back-to-back RBI singles in the second to put the Astros ahead 3-2. Pence knocked another single in the fourth, scoring Craig Biggio, who had reached on a fielder's choice grounder.

Biggio was 0-for-5, leaving him eight hits shy of 3,000.

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

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