The Astros have morphed into the team with the incredible shrinking payroll. Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez could have sworn he saw the same thing happen to the strike zone.

Rodriguez collaborated with three relievers to put up zeros in eight of the nine innings and still absorbed a 5-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

An inability to zero in on what constituted a quality strike doomed Rodriguez during a five-run, fifth-inning Reds outburst. Two walks — one to Reds pitcher Homer Bailey — set up a grand slam by Edgar Renteria. By then, it was safe for a crowd of 22,603 to assume home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn ought not to expect a Christmas card from Rodriguez.

"I threw a lot of close pitches to the home plate and he didn't call them," said Rodriguez, who passed Bob Knepper as the franchise's career leader in strikeouts by a lefthander with 947. "I'd get behind, try to throw a strike, and the guy would hit the ball."

The Reds had done next to nothing against Rodriguez (7-8) in the first four innings. One hit. One walk. He had allowed one less base runner to that point than Bailey, a La Grange native who wound up limiting the Astros to one run on five hits in eight innings.

"(Rodriguez) was sinking the ball pretty well outside," Astros catcher Carlos Corporan said. "We were throwing inside good. The curveball was working fine. But in the fifth inning, they stopped swinging at those balls, and we put ourselves in a hole."

When Chris Heisey led off the fifth with a double, he became the first Red to get into scoring position. Ramon Hernandez doubled on the next pitch, giving the Reds a 1-0 lead. With one out and Hernandez on second, Bailey came up with a nine-pitch plate appearance that, in the estimation of Astros manager Brad Mills, "really came up to bite us." Bailey fell behind in the count 0-2, fouled off three 3-2 fastballs and then walked on a breaking ball.