Jeff Karstens just made the decision for the fifth starter a little more iffy, throwing a six inning, three-hit goose egg and lowering his ERA to 4.08 as the Bucs topped the Cards 2-0 in front of 25,000 fireworks fans.
This marks the fifth straight game that the Pirate starters have gone six innings or more while giving up two earned runs or fewer. The team, not too surprisingly, is 4-1 during that stretch. And that kind of performance helped put the resurgent bullpen back in order so JR can use his back end to close games rather than eat innings.
Pittsburgh got its runs from several unlikely sources: Steve Pearce scored on a Ronny Cedeno infield hit, his first of two on the night, and Lastings Milledge, who had stolen second despite a pitchout, came home on a two-out Jason Jaramillo knock, his third of the game.
Andrew McCutchen, looking comfy in the three hole, added a pair of doubles. He's hitting .436 (17-for-39) in his ten games at that spot in the order.
The game had its interesting moments. The second run was a gift; Pearce hit a shot to third baseman David Freese, who had Milledge trapped halfway between bases. But Freese opted to take the out at first, and Milledge scored a batter later.
Milledge was involved in another big play, too. Holding on to a 1-0 lead in the sixth, a two-out single into shallow left brought Ryan Ludwick thundering home from second. Milledge's throw was up the line quite a bit, and Jaramillo's swipe tag clearly missed him.
The baseball gods were smiling on the Bucs, though, after laughing at them yesterday. Plate umpire Marty Foster pointed at Jaramillo, he held the ball up, and Ludwick was rung up. So it goes down as Milledge's second assist, and the team is atop the MLB now with ten outfield assists on the season. Thanks, blue.
One other noteworthy moment came in the eighth. Joel Hanrahan had two on and two out, with Pirate killer Albert Pujols at the dish.
He started him off with two sliders, one low and the other fouled. The next pitch, a 96 MPH heater at the knees, froze Sir Albert for a called strike two, and he polished him off with another slider off the plate for a swinging strike three. Not often do Pirate pitchers get the best of Pujols, especially with the game on the line.
Karstens and Brian Burres both have done yeoman's work in helping to stem the bleeding from the Pirate rotation, going a collective 4-2 and contributing mightily to righting a sinking ship. But Ross Ohlendorf is due back Monday, and Brendan Donnelly on Thursday from the DL.
Obviously, one of them has to stay as the fifth starter. But who else goes? For once, a good dilemma for the Bucs, knowing that there is some talent on hand unlike the days of JVB and Yoslan Herrera.
Adam Wainwright and Paul Maholm go tomorrow afternoon in the deciding game of the series, followed by a three game visit by the Reds.
-- The Pirates tried to steal twice, and both times ran into pitchouts, the only two of the night. One was even on a 2-1 pitch. Maybe they ought to mix up their patterns a little better; just because the Pirates' opposition scouting hasn't been so hot doesn't mean other teams are asleep at the wheel, too.
-- With tonight's game, the Cards have now amassed sixteen quality starts in the past seventeen games. That's how teams win divisions.
-- The Bucs haven't given up at all on slumping Jeff Clement. They think his problem is an exaggerated leg kick that causes a negative domino effect on his swing, so Donnie Long is spending time trying to quiet his footwork. It's what they were working on with John Raynor before his return to the Marlins.
-- Lastings Milledge is another work in progress for Long. He's been focused so much on hitting the ball to the opposite field that he had begun diving over the plate during his swing. So they're working on getting him to stay straight up and pull again. That may help explain why 56% of the balls he's put in play this year have been grounders, many soft rollers to second.
-- John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports gives Neal Huntington an incomplete grade for his rebuilding program so far, although he admits to being "skeptical" of the dealing overall.
-- Lasting Milledge's non grand-slam Thursday night was the topic of Dave Brown's Yahoo!Sports Big League Stew blog.
-- Baseball America's Prospect Hot sheet has three Bucco youngsters highlighted today: Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, and Jose Tabata. Not only that, but in keeping with the Pirate love theme, Bryan Bullington gets a nod, too.
-- 47-year-old Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher in major league history to throw a complete game shutout yesterday, holding the Braves to just two hits in a 7-0 victory. The previous record holder was Phil Niekro, when he did it for the Yankees at the age of 46 in 1986.