Colorado squeaks past Houston

Colorado squeaks past Houston

HOUSTON -- Rookie reliever Ramon Ramirez hadn't experienced much of the Rockies' messy history at Minute Maid Park. But he knew enough to get that sinking feeling when the Astros' Craig Biggio connected with a pitch in the seventh inning with a man at third and his club leading by a run Saturday night.

"I thought he got a base hit because he hit it hard," a smiling Ramirez said through a translator.

Ramirez is a charm for the Rockies, one that not even the Minute Maid misery can render ineffective. Third baseman Garrett Atkins caught the liner, and the Rockies ended their losing streak at three games by winning, 2-1, in front of 35,852. The Rockies stayed tied with the Padres atop the National League West.

It was the Rockies' fourth victory in 20 games since Minute Maid opened in 2000 and it ended a seven-game losing streak there.

"We can count them on one hand still, and fill up that hand tomorrow -- that'd be nice," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, whose club also has a shot on Sunday to finish .500 on a six-game road trip against NL Central contenders St. Louis and Houston.

To interrupt the hex, Colorado needed the hot hand of Ramirez, who pitched 1 1/3 innings to run his string of scoreless innings to 15 1/3, and the usual quality work of starter Aaron Cook (3-2), who went 6 2/3 innings and beat the Astros for the second time in six days. The Rockies also had to overcome a strong outing by Astros ace Roy Oswalt (5-3), who held them to two runs on eight hits over seven innings.

Cook held the Astros to five hits and struck out six in his sixth quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer runs) in eight outings. Cook's biggest difficulty came in the first inning, when he faced runners at second and third with one out before striking out Morgan Ensberg and Preston Wilson.

Before Cook left with one out and a runner at second in the seventh, he had thrown 103 pitches and given up doubles in three straight innings. Turns out his half-dozen strikeouts, his highest of the season, worked against him. Usually, his MO is to get groundballs and preserve his pitch count.

"I never design to strike a lot of people out," Cook said. "I will say in the first inning I was trying to go for the first strikeout with a guy on second and third. The second one to Preston just kind of happened to happen that inning."

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Cook lowered his ERA to 3.27 and improved to 3-0 on the road. Hurdle said rising to meet the Oswalt challenge spoke volumes.

"The matchup he had tonight, that's just an old-fashioned shootout, which is pretty apropos, dripping with symbolism being here in Houston," Hurdle said. "Oswalt and Cook was a dogfight from the start. It's not an easy task by any means, especially with a club that can be very offensive like that ballclub. That's a gutsy performance, and we needed one."

Danny Ardoin, who entered batting .203, led off the second inning with a double off Oswalt, who felt he "lost the ballgame throwing a curveball to the catcher."

Ardoin scored on Luis Gonzalez's one-out single. Todd Helton followed with another RBI single.

Left-hander Ray King replaced Cook and retired the only man he faced, Orlando Palmeiro, on a sacrifice bunt. Then Ramirez got the Biggio liner to end the threat. Ramirez struck out one in the eighth, and Brian Fuentes fanned two in a perfect ninth for his ninth save.

Ramirez, 24, obtained in the deal that sent pitcher Shawn Chacon to the New York Yankees last season, had never pitched in the Majors before the Rockies promoted him from Triple-A Colorado Springs on April 12.

Such a tight situation has been the domain of veteran Jose Mesa, but Hurdle thought he needed a break after struggling in his last two outings. After having used Scott Dohmann and David Cortes with some success late in games, Hurdle decided that Ramirez was ready for a big situation.

"He had command of all three pitches, and he has a very slow heartbeat out there," Hurdle said.

Getting such an important assignment did Ramirez's heart good.

"I was surprised, but I feel good on the mound," Ramirez said. "I feel comfortable."

It's a rare feeling for the Rockies at Minute Maid.

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