Hidalgo's go-ahead homer tops Devil Rays


HOUSTON -- Richard Hidalgo left no doubt he was ready to return to the Houston Astros' lineup.

Hidalgo and Jeff Kent hit solo home runs in the eighth inning, rallying Houston over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-4 Saturday night for their sixth straight victory.

"That was a big night for Hidalgo coming back like that," manager Jimy Williams said. "He has worked awfully hard taking extra batting practice and running the bases while he has been out to try and get his strength and stamina back. That was the main concern for me and he proved he had it back."

Hidalgo went 3-for-4 to raise his season average to .310 in his first game back since going on the disabled list May 23 with tonsillitis and a virus. He hit his eighth homer with two outs off Al Levine (2-3), after Kent tied it at 4-all with his 10th home run.

Hidalgo had 104-degree temperature when he first went in the hospital. He stayed three days and slowly regained his strength afterwards.

"I worked every day while the team was on the road," Hidalgo said. "I was doing my running and trying to get my strength back. I'm glad I feel pretty good now."

Billy Wagner got his 18th save in 19 chances and tied Dave Smith for the franchise lead in career saves with 199. But he said he wasn't saving this ball.

"Until you own (the record) it's still somebody else's," Wagner said. "When I get the record, I'll definitely save the ball."

The Devil Rays lost their third in a row. On Friday night, they overcame a 7-0 lead before falling 11-8.

They lost for the sixth time in the last seven games and manager Lou Piniella doesn't like the way the team is blowing leads the way Levine did in three innings work Saturday.

"It was three times on this roadtrip that's happened," Piniella said. "(Levine has) gone three innings before. The only guy I had left was (Lance) Carter and I was saving him to pitch the ninth, but that's not our problem.

"Our problem is the previous two games our starter has gone one inning each. That causes all these other things to snowball."

Levine had no excuses.

"I've thrown three innings before," he said. "That's not a factor at all. It (the home run by Kent) was a horrible pitch and it deserved to be deposited. It was a bad slider, a home run ball. I threw it and he crushed it.

"(Hidalgo's homer) was a worse pitch. Another terrible slider. The stadium isn't the problem. Both teams have to deal with it. If you leave pitches up like that, you expect to get another one from the umpire."

Kirk Saarloos (2-0) pitched a scoreless eighth.

Lance Berkman hit the longest home run in Minute Maid Park history, a drive estimated at 464 feet. The previous longest shot was a 461-footer by Pittsburgh's Matt Stairs on May 5.

Berkman's three-run homer, his 11th, put the Astros ahead 3-0 in the first inning.

Devil Rays starter Jeremi Gonzalez settled down after that, retiring 12 of the next 13 batters. Gonzalez gave up four hits in five innings.

Houston starter Jonathan Johnson lasted 5 2/3 innings and gave up four runs and six hits.

Tampa Bay tied it in the third, starting with a leadoff homer by Rocco Baldelli, his fourth. Toby Hall had an RBI single and Julio Lugo an RBI triple to make it 3-3.

Lugo, released from the Astros on May 9 after being charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly attacking his wife, was booed each time he came to the plate. He went 1-for-3.

Game notes
Berkman extended his hitting streak to 14 games. ... Hall hit his fifth home run of the year, one short of his career high set last season. ... Baldelli took over the team lead with 33 RBI. ... Huff doubled to give him 36 extra-base hits, third most in the
American League.