Home Opener. 38,411 warm bodies in the house. How many times have the Pirates been on that stage only to bomb? Well, not today.
Zach Duke spun a four-hit, complete game shutout and the middle of the order banged the ball around as the Bucs throttled the sad sack Houston Astros 7-0.
Duke struck out five and walked three, throwing 119 pitches. His fastball is setting up his off-speed stuff beautifully so far in 2009. It's almost a replay of 2005, and wouldn't that be sweet? If he finishes the year with an ERA that starts with a three, one big hole in the Pirate rotation will be plugged.
And we like that John Russell allowed him to finish the game. Duke deserved the shutout, and while he threw a lot of pitches, the 120 mark isn't outrageous as long as it doesn't become a commonplace occurrence. After all, it didn't seem to hurt CC Sabathia last season either arm-wise or contract-wise.
Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Adam LaRoche went 6-for-13 with two homers, five RBI, and three runs scored, set up by Freddy Sanchez's three doubles. And they'll need more days like that if they want to put a few tallies on the board. For all that, Pittsburgh was 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded eleven.
The coin of the MLB realm is pitching. So far, so good. That's six quality starts in seven outings with a team ERA of 2.70 (if GW did his math right, never a granted), and that's why the Pirates have their head above the .500 mark. The bullpen hasn't been exposed yet, unlike last year when the relief guys had as many innings as a respectable rabbit has baby bunnies. And that's a lot.
Now the Astros aren't exactly the 1961 Yankees. They've lost five in a row. But the sign of a good team is that they jump on squads that are down. And so far, the Pirates haven't shown any signs of greatness...but they have been good.
There are 155 games left to prove just how good.
-- Ross Ohlendorf takes on Mark Hampton in Wednesday's game. Hampton is the first lefty the Bucs will face; Andy LaRoche should be back in the lineup and maybe Craig Monroe will get his day in the sun.