CINCINNATI — Two on, two outs. Ramon Hernandez was coming up in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to start another raucous Reds celebration.
It felt an awful lot like opening day, when Hernandez hit a two-out, three-run homer that launched the Cincinnati Reds' best start in 21 years.
Not this time. The drama and the NL's last perfect record ended with a ground ball. Hernandez hit into a forceout for the final out Thursday, preserving the Houston Astros' 3-2 victory.
While the Astros celebrated their first win with hand slaps behind the mound, the Reds took their loss by focusing on the big picture, one that looks really good for the defending NL Central champions after an opening 5-1 homestand.
"Our team puts good at-bats together," said Nick Masset (0-1), who gave up Matt Downs' tiebreaking double in the ninth. "We've been playing good ball. We can't get down on ourselves."
The Reds now pack up for their first road trip.
"We've just got to continue doing the same things we did at home," manager Dusty Baker said. "You want to have a good month every month. If you do that, September will take care of itself."
Cincinnati's opening homestand was about as good as it gets.
The NL's top offense from 2010 was going full-power most of the time. The Reds batted .329 in those half-dozen games, scoring runs at a Big Red Machine pace. They even gave themselves one last chance for a perfect finish on Thursday.
Scott Rolen hit a tying, pinch-hit homer in the seventh off Brett Myers. After Downs put the Astros back ahead in the ninth, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto singled with two outs in the bottom half against closer Brandon Lyon, who had blown his only other save chance.
"That's what we did all last year," Hernandez said. "It's what we've done so far this year. We go (hard) until the last out is made and anything can happen."
This time, Hernandez hit a grounder up the middle that didn't get through. The forceout at second base left Texas as the only unbeaten team in the majors.
Left-hander Fernando Abad (1-0) got his first major-league win.
Houston's pitching staff had allowed only two homers coming in, one of the best marks in the majors. The Astros gave themselves a chance by getting the Reds into a game of small ball — more suited to their lineup.
Credit Myers for that.
The right-hander didn't let Cincinnati's offense get rolling. Edgar Renteria doubled home a run in the second, and the Reds went on to load the bases with two outs, giving themselves a chance to break it open. Myers got Drew Stubbs to pop up a full-count pitch.
Rolen's solo homer on Myers' 106th and final pitch tied it at 2 in the bottom of the seventh. It was the fourth career pinch-hit homer for Rolen, who was out of the lineup in a day game following a night game.
The Astros came in batting only .214 with a league-low two homers. They squeezed out a pair of runs on groundouts: Hunter Pence drove in a first-inning run with a grounder, and Carlos Lee tripled and scored on Brett Wallace's groundout in the fourth.
NOTES: There was a moment of silence before the start of the game for former Reds pitching coach Larry Shepard, who died on Tuesday. ... The Astros have their home opener Friday against Florida, starting a 10-game homestand. The Reds begin their first road trip in Arizona. ... Astros CF Michael Bourn didn't play because of a sore groin. ... Dusty Baker has won 248 games managing the Reds. He's two wins shy of becoming the 11th manager to win at least 250 games with three teams. He also did it with the Giants and Cubs. ... The crowd of 20,014 included a walk-up sale of 6,301.
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