HOUSTON (AP) - The Astros are learning the hard way that the smallest of plays can have catastrophic effects if not executed effectively.
An error by first baseman Carlos Lee on a routine infield popup triggered their latest collapse on Sunday.
The Astros blew their lead in a big way, with rookie starter Aneury Rodriguez allowing the New York Mets seven runs in the span of two innings and the offense stranding 10 in a 7-4 loss at Minute Maid Park to surrender the three-game series.
``I don't know if (the dropped popup) is what got to (Rodriguez) or not, but it seems like things started to go downhill right after that,' Astros manager Brad Mills said.
Clint Barmes homered for the first time this season, Bill Hall went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Jason Michaels doubled twice with an RBI and a run scored for the Astros, who nonetheless went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position in their sixth loss in eight games.
``We left way too many guys on base today,' Barmes said.
The Astros, who play at Atlanta beginning Monday, went 2-4 in their latest home stand.
A day after a 7-3 win, they also missed out on a chance to claim their second series of the season against the Mets despite leading early in all three games. The Astros took two out of three from the Mets at Citi Field on April 19-21.
Facing the Mets for the second time and first as a starter, Rodriguez cruised through the first four innings, at one point retiring 11 straight to keep the Mets hitless while using only 46 pitches.
The Astros led 2-0 at that point, thanks to an RBI single by Chris Johnson in the second and a run-scoring double by Michaels in the fourth.
Then came the fifth inning.
Jason Bay escaped a full count with a popup to the mound that Lee missed.
``I had that ball. I just kind of didn't know where I was and as I ran (onto) the mound I lost my footing, so the ball kind of moved on me,' Lee said. ``CJ (Chris Johnson) had that ball, so I should've have let him have it.'
It was all downhill from there.
Rodriguez allowed three straight hits - including a two-run double to Justin Turner, who came home on a Jason Pridie single to center - to surrender the lead with no outs.
Two outs later, the Mets made it 4-2 on a double steal that had Jose Reyes reaching second and Pridie home as Astros catcher J.R. Towles threw to second with a runner at third.
``Through the first four innings I was keeping my pitches low and my all my pitches were working and I was locating the ball well,' Rodriguez said. ``Then came the fifth inning and I lost my concentration.'
Rodriguez did not blame the dropped ball for his change of fortune.
``Those mistakes happen, and I don't take anything away from (Lee),' Rodriguez said. ``The ball dropped, but that shouldn't mean that because of that error I start messing up. I lost my concentration - that's what happened.'
Rodriguez (0-2) walked Daniel Murphy, setting the stage for Justin Turner, whose three-run homer made it 7-2 and marked the end of Rodriguez's outing.
Rodriguez left having allowed five hits and seven runs, five of them earned, with four walks and two strikeouts over five-plus innings for his second loss of the season.
The Astros got one run back in the bottom of the frame, with Barmes hitting a two-out solo homer off Mets reliever Taylor Buchholz. Matt Downs got the Astros within three in the eighth with an RBI double that plated Michaels.
Mets starter Chris Capuano (3-4) had a quiet but effective outing for the win, his first since April 21, when he beat the Astros at Citi. He gave up two runs, both earned, on six hits while striking out six and walking three through five innings.
Notes: Mets OF Carlos Beltran returned to the lineup after sitting out Saturday's game with a swollen right eye. ``I woke up this morning and I could see clear. I came to the ballpark and went to the cage to make sure I saw the ball good.' ... Jason Bay is averaging 10.3 home runs per at-bat at Minute Maid Park. Sammy Sosa is the only player with a better average with 9.9 homers for each at-bat. ... Michael Bourn was 14 for 14 in stolen bases until he was caught stealing second base in the first inning.
The Associated Press News Service
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