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Rodriguez sets stage for walk-off win

Rodriguez sets stage for extras win

HOUSTON -- It's hard to label a player's performance as staggering yet predictable all at the same time, but that's starting to become the story for Wandy Rodriguez.

Rodriguez added yet another chapter to his shocking season and further increased his dramatic discrepancy in home vs. road performance in Monday's series opener with the Cubs, tossing eight outstanding innings while yielding only one run on four hits and striking out a career-high nine.

That kept the Astros in a tie game before Eric Munson launched a two-out, walk-off single to deep right in the 10th, scoring Ty Wigginton, to give the Astros a 2-1 victory.

Fresh off a horrid start in Atlanta, where he allowed seven first-inning runs and lowered his road record to 1-8 with an 8.16 ERA, Rodriguez found the home magic yet again, maintaining his 6-2 home record and improving his ERA at Minute Maid Park to an incredible 1.69.

"I don't know why," Rodriguez said through an interpreter. "I'm throwing the ball the same everywhere. I feel very comfortable here, but on the road I feel comfortable, too. [Monday] I located the fastball very well, and my breaking pitch was great."

"He was definitely on top of his game," manager Phil Garner said of Rodriguez. "It's a whole different ballgame pitching at home. He's throwing strikes. He's aggressive. His fastball has good location, and his breaking ball has been excellent at home. It's sharp with good depth to it."

Amazingly, Rodriguez seemed to get even better the further he went in his 121-pitch outing. Facing the heart of the potent Cubs order in his eighth and final inning and clinging to a 1-1 tie, Rodriguez struck out the side, including Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez swinging.

"Wandy didn't look like he missed a spot all night," said closer Brad Lidge (3-1), who pitched the 10th inning and picked up the win on Munson's walk-off. "Really, that's Wandy's win all the way, and fortunately the bullpen was able to protect his win. The way he threw the ball tonight, that was outstanding."

Chad Qualls relieved Rodriguez to start the ninth and struck out the side himself, giving the Astros six consecutive strikeouts as the game headed to extras.

But Lidge faced drama of his own when he was called on in the top of the 10th, surrendering a leadoff single to Jason Kendall. Kendall moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a flyout from Ryan Theriot.


"It's a whole different ballgame pitching at home. He's throwing strikes. He's aggressive. His fastball has good location, and his breaking ball has been excellent at home. It's sharp with good depth to it."
-- Phil Garner, on Wandy Rodriguez

But with the go-ahead run on third, Lidge buckled down and overwhelmed pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd with several sharp sliders, striking him out swinging to end the inning.

"[Lidge] did a nice job," Garner said. "Any time he gets his slider down and down on the plate, the guys don't see it and they're going to swing at it. That's what he did."

In the bottom of the inning, Wigginton recovered from an 0-2 hole against Michael Wuertz to draw a leadoff walk. Jason Lane then dropped a successful sacrifice bunt to move him to scoring position.

Two batters later, Munson and Wuertz (2-3) battled through a long at-bat before Wuertz hung a slider on a 3-2 count, and Munson ripped it into the right-field corner to send the Astros home with a victory. It's the seventh walk-off win for the Astros this season, in stark contrast to last season, when they were unable to notch any walk-off victories until late September. For Munson, it's the second walk-off hit of his career.

"Whenever you get your chance to play, you have to do what you can to help the team win," Munson said. "Before I got to 3-2, pretty much the whole at-bat I was looking slider. But once you get to two strikes, you have to be able to hit everything. I was lucky he left it up, and I was able to hit it and keep it fair."

Munson came into the game in the ninth after Orlando Palmeiro pinch-hit for starter Brad Ausmus in the bottom of the eighth.

Cubs starter Rich Hill came close to matching Rodriguez's performance, tossing seven innings while allowing just one run on three hits. His only blemish came when Carlos Lee drilled an opposite-field home run to deep right with two outs in the fourth, putting the Astros in front, 1-0.

The Cubs, however, quickly regrouped to tie the game and set the stage for the later innings. Theriot led off the fifth with a double that grazed the chalk midway down the right-field line. He moved to third on a groundout from Ronny Cedeno and scored when Lee grounded out to second, tying the game at 1.

Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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