HOUSTON -- August was the most terrible month in Houston's dreadful season.
Maybe the way the Astros started September is a sign that things will be better this month.
Cincinnati second baseman Wilson Valdez's error on a routine grounder by Jose Altuve with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Astros to a 2-1 win over the Reds on Saturday night.
Pinch-hitter Matt Downs doubled off the left field wall with two outs in the ninth. Sean Marshall (4-5) intentionally walked Matt Dominguez before hitting pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes to load the bases.
Altuve hit the ball directly at Valdez, who was playing second after Brandon Phillips was ejected in the previous inning, and it rolled between his legs -- allowing Downs to trot home and Houston to break a six-game skid. Houston was 5-22 last month.
"This game is about winning baseball games and I'm really excited about what's going to happen here the next month," said interim manager Tony DeFrancesco, who won for just the second time since taking over for Brad Mills who was fired Aug. 18.
"We've got a nice group of guys trying to compete. They're trying to establish themselves as major league players. It's going to take a little time here in Houston, a little patience, and I think the reward is going to be seen down the road here."
Wilton Lopez (6-3) got the last two outs in the ninth inning for the win.
Valdez was disappointed he couldn't make the play.
"That is just part of the game; what can you do? I made an error, we lost the game, and I feel mad because we lost the game because I made the error," he said.
Phillips was ejected in the eighth inning after arguing a call. He was tossed after jawing with plate umpire Andy Fletcher on a called third strike on what Phillips thought should have been a check swing.
Phillips protested somewhat calmly for a minute before getting more heated and having to be pulled away by manager Dusty Baker.
"You know, he had a rough night, and there were some questionable calls," Baker said of Phillips. "He came in after the game, and he felt terrible about it. But, these things happen. You don't like them, but they happen. These games are emotional, and we just have to put this one behind us."
He was gone from the clubhouse by the time reporters were allowed in after the game, but tweeted an apology.
It started with a hashtag with the phrase "realtalk" and ended with a hashtag followed by "human."
"Apologize to my fans, team, (and) also the umpires for actions tonight," he tweeted. "Not like me, but that's how I felt at the time!!!!"
Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs hit consecutive singles to get things going for the Reds in the first inning. Phillips grounded into a forceout that left Stubbs out at second and the Reds went up 1-0 on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Ludwick.
The Astros mustered only three hits against Reds starter Homer Bailey, who entered the game 2-0 in three starts against Houston. Unfortunately for Bailey and the Reds, one of those knocks was a solo homer by Justin Maxwell which tied it in the fourth inning.
The homer continued a streak of hot hitting for Maxwell in games where rookie Lucas Harrell is the starter. Maxwell has 13 homers this season and seven have come when Harrell is on the mound.
Bailey was one strikeout shy of his career high by fanning nine Astros with one walk in eight innings.
Fernando Martinez singled with one out in the second inning. Bailey retired seven straight after that before Maxwell's shot to right field tied it at 1-1 in the fourth inning.
He hit Martinez after Maxwell's homer before getting back on track and sitting down the next 10 straight, including striking out the side in the seventh.
Harrell pitched seven solid innings, yielding seven hits and one run with three strikeouts. He was lifted for Hector Ambriz in the eighth inning and he retired the side.
"I felt comfortable throwing my sinker in today and a few times away and I got a lot of ground balls and that was kind of the plan. We wanted to conserve pitches today and get a lot of ground balls."
DeFrancesco was happy with the performance he got from his bench.
"The bench was alive," he said. "We used mostly the whole bench today, pinch-hitting, double-switching, it was a true team effort. That's what we're trying to establish in that locker room. It's about the team and not about individuals. Hopefully we can change this thing around."
NOTES: Injured Reds 1B Joey Votto made three rehabilitation appearances for Class A Dayton and was scheduled to play for Triple-A Louisville on Saturday night. ... Houston claimed INF Brandon Laird off waivers from the Yankees before Saturday's game. ... The Reds recalled RHP Logan Ondrusek, INFS Didi Gregorius and Henry Rodriguez and OF Denis Phipps from Louisville on Saturday. ... The Astros activated CF Jordan Schafer from the disabled list and recalled Downs and RHP Jose Valdez from Triple-A Oklahoma City.