Astros happy to get Backe back

Astros happy to get Backe back

MILWAUKEE -- Although the out-of-contention Astros still are trying to win every game they play, the fact that they lost to the Brewers, 5-3, on Tuesday probably should take a back seat to Brandon Backe's performance, from a big-picture perspective.

In this case, individual results are slightly more relevant, because the Astros are crossing their fingers that Backe can help them in 2008. With the free-agent market looking less than desirable in terms of starting pitching, the Astros are going to have to look within for leadership in their rotation.

This loss carried a positive upside -- Backe lasted into the sixth inning, threw 91 pitches and put forth a promising effort in his first Major League test since he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last September.

"You want to win," manager Cecil Cooper said. "But the big thing is making sure he came through it OK, and he did."

Backe yielded four runs, three of which were earned, over 5 2/3 innings. Afterward, the right-hander was neither jovial nor despondent. He was quietly accepting, pleased that he gave his team a reasonable chance to win, but also a bit frustrated with the loss. He gave himself a grade of "just OK" after this one.

"I'm not going to sit here and bag myself for giving up four runs, but at the same token, I'm not going to sit here and pat myself on the back and say that I did a heck of a job," Backe said. "It was OK."

Half the battle was keeping his emotions in check. Excitable by nature, Backe admitted he was "going 100 miles an hour by about six o'clock tonight." It took him until the first inning, after Ryan Braun hit a solo homer off him, to really calm down.

"The first inning was a little tough," Backe said. "It's almost like in football and you're a quarterback. You get that first hit, someone hits you, you're awake and you're ready to play the game. They got that first home run off me, and bam, OK, it's time to shut it down."

Backe gave up an unearned run with two outs in the second. Carlos Villanueva scored when Lance Berkman made an errant throw to Ty Wigginton, in an attempt to gun down the pitcher after he had taken a wide turn at third base.

Backe yielded two runs in the fifth after Corey Hart knocked an RBI double to left, advanced to third on Carlos Lee's throw home and scored on Geoff Jenkins' infield single. Backe left the game after he issued a two-out walk to Rickie Weeks in the sixth.

"If he throws like that, he'll be fine," catcher Eric Munson said. "He threw really well. He's always going to compete. When he gets out there, he's a competitor. You don't have to worry about that. Sometimes he might get a little too excited, but I thought he did a good job controlling himself."

This start arrived three days shy of the one-year anniversary that Backe underwent surgery. His last Major League start, coincidentally enough, occurred at Miller Park on Aug. 18, 2006.

"I think Brandon's a guy that everybody roots for, from a standpoint of we know how he works, we know how much he wants to pitch and likes to compete. It was nice to have him back."
-- Chris Burke

Backe fully admitted this outing was extremely emotional for him, and he also acknowledged he was somewhat surprised by his reaction when he took the mound for the first time.

"It was tougher than I thought it would be," he said. "I thought I'd coast in there just like the Triple-A [starts], and it wasn't. We're here in Milwaukee, there's 25,000 fans tonight and it felt like it was the World Series. It was tough, as far as trying to calm myself down.

"I was just trying to have a good game. I wasn't trying to shut anybody out, just trying to do well."

The right-hander received high marks from his manager and teammates.

"He got a pitch up to Braun, but that guy's a mirror image of [Hunter] Pence," Cooper said. "He's not going to miss those. Other than that, I thought Brandon threw the ball well. He started mixing his breaking balls in the third, fourth inning. He looked good. If he can pitch like that for us on a pretty consistent basis, I'll be pretty happy with that."

"Sometimes, especially when you're healthy, you take for granted the grind of the season and how long the season lasts," said Chris Burke, who homered in the third. "When a guy like Brandon gets to come back and play, I think you have to stop and appreciate the amount of work he's put in. You certainly get a feeling of you never quite know what you have until it's gone.

"I think Brandon's a guy that everybody roots for, from a standpoint of we know how he works, we know how much he wants to pitch and likes to compete. It was nice to have him back."

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