HOUSTON (AP) - Having struggled offensively for much of the past two weeks, Houston manager Brad Mills held a pre-game meeting Friday to challenge his team to get back in gear against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The meeting may have gotten the players' attention, but it wasn't able to help the team halt a losing streak that is now its' longest in nearly three years.
Forced to be close to perfect from the mound by a stubbornly sedated offense, Astros starter J.A. Happ was anything but, getting rocked for a season-high three home runs -- including back-to-back blasts in the first inning -- as the Astros fell to the Brewers 7-1 on Friday night.
``I left some balls over the middle of the plate, and they hit some of them, and we lost pretty bad,' said Happ, who tied a career high for home runs allowed.
Happ's game summary was missing one crucial detail; he wasn't able to get much help from his offense.
``I know we are battling,' Happ said when the issue was raised. ``We're doing what we can do.'
The Astros, who have baseball's worst road record at 9-32, were eager to get home after a 0-7 road trip.
But it was more of the same at Minute Maid Park as they managed just five hits in the loss that extended their skid to a season-worst nine straight. The Astros hadn't lost that many games since Sept. 13-22, 2009.
Scott Moore homered to extend his hitting streak to seven games and contribute the Astros' lone run against Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo (7-6), who beat Houston for an eighth consecutive start.
The Astros, who left eight on base and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, are averaging just 2.1 runs per game during their current slide, leaving little room for error for Happ - or any other pitcher for that matter.
``We had a little meeting today and that's kind of what the focus was a little bit,' Mills said, referring to his team's lackluster offensive production of late. ``The guys came out and squared some balls up, and we're going to continue to work on some things and try to stay aggressive the best we can.'
On this night, Happ (6-9) erred early and, beginning in the sixth inning, often.
He put his team behind with one out in the first inning, giving up a solo homer to Norichika Aoki and, after getting ahead of the count 0-2 against Ryan Braun, another solo shot five pitches later as Milwaukee helped itself to a 2-0 lead.
Happ rebounded to keep the Brewers in check the next four innings, but fell on hard times again in the sixth.
He gave up a two-out double to Corey Hart, which he paid dearly for when Rickie Weeks, took him deep to the Astros bullpen for a two-run homer and a 4-1 lead.
``I wanted to be the guy that got us over it tonight,' Happ said. ``It wasn't good, but we were right there, and then I threw some pitches over the heart of the plate, and it cost us.'
The Brewers got Happ for three more runs in the seventh, highlighted by a one-out RBI triple by Carlos Gomez.
Reliever Enerio Del Rosario finished the inning, but not before allowing Aramis Ramirez an RBI double on a soft fly ball to right to add to Happ's line, which included all seven runs and nine hits, one walk and four strikeouts over 6 1-3 innings.
``We weren't going to win tonight with the two, but at least we were in the game,' Happ said. ``The sixth and seventh were the problem there.'
Gallardo, meanwhile, was always in control. He struck out six, allowing just three hits besides the Moore homer.
The closest thing to a jam Gallardo faced came in the second inning after he walked Happ to load the bases with two outs. He ended the threat quickly by striking out Jordan Schafer.
Left fielder J.D. Martinez said Mills implored them to get back to playing how they did early in the season when they went 22-23. They've gone 10-29 since then to drop to a MLB-worst 32-52.
``We just have to get back to having fun,' Martinez said. ``And that's hard when you are losing, you know?'
NOTES: Braun was sore after being plunked in the back by reliever Rhiner Cruz in the ninth inning. ... The Astros wore the rainbow sleeve jerseys they wore from 1987-93 as Houston continues its yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the franchise. ... Houston reliever Wilton Lopez, on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow, pitched one inning in a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday.
The Associated Press News Service
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