Fresh from a month on the disabled list, Harang had counted on pitching well and playing a role in turning around the fortunes of the Reds, who wobbled into his outing having lost five straight.
Instead, Harang didn't resemble one bit the Harang who had served as the linchpin of the Reds' rotation the past few seasons. In his return to duty, he took an early pounding, which built the foundation for what turned into a 13-4 loss to the Astros.
How badly did his outing go? Harang gave up a leadoff double in the second inning to Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who came into the ballgame with a .097 average.
But by the time Rodriguez had batted, Harang had already sculpted an outing that sent the Reds toward their sixth straight loss. He struggled, probably as badly as the Reds have been struggling in his absence.
To start the game, Harang gave up a single to Kaz Matsui, who stole second. Darin Erstad sacrificed Matsui to third, and Matsui scored on Miguel Tejada's double. Harang walked Lance Berkman before Geoff Blum doubled home Tejada, and one out later, Michael Bourn, a .229 hitter, uncluttered the bases with a three-run homer.
"We got to get out of the first inning," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're playing from behind every day. ... I can't remember the last clean 1-2-3 inning."
Harang's first-inning struggles put the Reds in a familiar position: behind and forced to play catchup. The task became more difficult when Harang carried his struggles in the first over into the second inning.
He allowed a run then, as well.
In the third, the task became even more improbable when Harang served up back-to-back homers to Berkman and Blum.
"It was definitely not the way I wanted to come back," said Harang, who said his stuff looked good and felt fine as he warmed up.
But Harang didn't drag the good stuff he had in the bullpen to the mound with him. He put the Reds under the kind of intense pressure they'd faced throughout their 1-6 homestand.
The Astros led, 8-0, before Harang and the Reds had reached the fourth.
Houston also had nine hits by that time.
"The series helped a lot of batting averages over there," Baker said.
He was referring to the offensive firepower the Astros displayed throughout their series sweep. They had their biggest explosion of runs at Great American Ball Park this series against Harang, even though he didn't have to fret about what to do with Carlos Lee.
Lee was injured when hit on the hand Saturday.
Yet the Astros had no shortage of hitters who took their swings at Harang, who didn't have the command he needed.
"He was up, and they were whacking it," Baker said.
And the Astros kept on whacking after Harang left. They continued to keep Baker, frustration in his voice, searching for answers.
He found only questions this past week.
Yet Harang, not Baker, put this frustration-filled week of baseball in perspective best.
"It's been a bad home series for us all," the pitcher said.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less