Astros pass first test of second half. Next up, Cardinals.

The Astros should have won the game Sunday and exited Los Angeles with three wins over the Dodgers, but despite the disappointment following their 4-3 loss in the finale, they were able to draw some positives.

True, they had to “settle” for a split, but considering that split came against agruably the best team in the National League, the trip cannot be deemed a failure.

I’ll be honest, after the Astros did what they were supposed to do against the Pirates and Nationals just before the All-Star break, I thought the good times might be coming to an end, or if not an end, a slow crawl. But the Astros passed their first test, one that begins a challenging stretch against some of the league’s best — the Dodgers, Cardinals and Cubs, to name a few.

“Everyone in here knows we should have won this game,” Russ Ortiz said following Sunday’s loss. “But we’re a mature enough clubhouse to not let this affect us. We hit well this series and we pitched well against the best lineup in the league.”

Speaking of Ortiz, I think we witnessed a bit of a breakthrough — maybe a better word is truce — between the veteran right-hander and manager Cecil Cooper. When Coop went to talk to Ortiz after Ortiz gave up a base hit to Andre Ethier with two outs in the sixth, Coop seemed to be wavering between pulling the plug and letting Ortiz finish what he started.

With his arm around Ortiz’s waist, Coop said, “Hey, this is your guy to get. So go get him.’

“And,” Coop said later in his office, after Ortiz coaxed a 4-3 groundout from James Loney, “He went and got him.”

The vote of confidence meant a lot to Ortiz, who as you probably remember lashed out at the manager, through the media, for yanking him prematurely during his last start before the All-Star break.

Sunday’s communication between pitcher and manager is a positive sign that the ugliness from the last altercation has been dropped.

“(Cooper) said, ‘This is your guy,'” Ortiz said. “I knew if I made my pitches, I could get him out. (Cooper) had (asked me how I was feeling) a couple of times already. To be able to finish off the inning was big, not only confidence-wise for me but confidence-wise for (Cooper). It was a good thing for him to come out and tell me this is my guy, and then to be able to get him out.”


Bits and pieces, odds and ends and ramblings from the road trip:

* If Puma wasn’t a baseball player he’d be a country singer (assuming he can actually carry a tune; jury’s still out on that one). His reasons:
You never really have a bad day at work
You get to sing for a living
If you forget the words, you can just stick the microphone out to the crowd and let them sing it for you.

* I asked Puma if he’d ever consider giving up switch-hitting and just hit left-handed full-time. He said switch-hitting is something he’s done his entire life, and facing lefties from the left side of the plate is simply awkward at this stage of the game. Had he done it before, he might consider it, but he doubts he’d be very good at it now.

I don’t blame him. So much of playing baseball is based on muscle memory, on repetition, on reacting rather than thinking. To try to learn something new at this stage of the game — Puma just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his Major League debut — is probably asking a little too much.

* Kind of a slow weekend in terms of celebrity sightings at Dodger Stadium. Of course, nothing can top spotting Rob Lowe in the Diamond Club area after an Astros-Dodgers game a couple of years ago, but the scoreboard will always capture a dozen or so A-listers on any given weekend. This time, I counted three — Larry King, Calista Flockhart and the kid from Two-and-a-half Men.

* Sat in front of Russ Ortiz and his soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter on the flight home. Let’s just say baseball took a backseat to High School Musical and Miley Cyrus. Awesome.

* A tip of the cap to head athletic trainer Nate Lucero, who celebrated the 19th anniversary of his 21st birthday on Sunday.

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Not baseball related, except for being at the game, but at Thursday night’s game, actress Jane Seymour, husband/actor Stacy Keach, and their children were sitting right behind home plate. They were quite visible on the tv broadcast, and though I didn’t have the sound up, were actually on camera at one point, I’m assuming with comments from J.D and Brownie.

You also forgot L.L. Cool J and me, RoundRock15. 😛

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