It was a quiet start, as JA (call me Jay) Happ and Jeff Karstens spent a couple of innings shutting down batters. Oh, the Stro's had three runners, but on an error and two soft singles, all with two out.
The Bucs stirred a bit in the third, when Chris Snyder hit an infield single deep in the SS hole and Argenis Diaz drew a walk. The Pirates blew that chance spectacularly.
Jeff Karstens popped out trying to bunt, McCutch struck out on a pitch off the plate, and Garrett Jones popped out foul to third base after hitting a monster foul into the third deck of Minute Maid the pitch before.
The Astros did it backward of the Bucs in their half. With two outs, Hunter Pence hit a grounder up the middle for a single. He stole second on a play where the ball beat him; the only question would be if Neil Walker missed the sweep tag. It became a big call when Carlos Lee reached out for a low and away slider and rolled it up the middle to score Pence and give Houston a 1-0 lead.
The Bucs small-balled their way into the lead in the fourth. Jose Tabata lined a single into center, and Pedro ended a five-K streak by walking on a borderline pitch. Walker bunted them over. We're not big fans of the five-hole hitter sacrificing, but in this case, it worked.
Thrilledge lined a single into center to plate JT, and Snyder lofted a fly just short of the right field track to bring home Alvarez. JK showed his appreciation by 1-2-3'ing the 'Stros in their half of the fourth.
Both sides went down without a fight in the fifth.
The Bucs got two aboard with one away in the sixth, thanks to back-to-back walks to Pedro and the Pittsburgh Kid. Thrilledge couldn't come through this time, hitting a soft chooper to second. He beat the off-line relay to first, but Pedro was easily thrown out trying to sneak home. How many innings are ended with a 4-6-3-2 DP?
It's tough to say who is at fault; Tony Beasley pointed down the line, which is baseball sign language to take the turn and find the ball. But he wasn't barking, and with a young baserunner, verbal assistance should be given to reinforce your sign. But hey, an aggressive mistake. A runner with better wheels would be in.
It became a new game in the bottom half. Pence started off with a ground rule double that barely eluded McCutch. Two deep flies to right later, and it was 2-2. Small ball rules in Minute Maid today
Again, JR left a starter in too long; the sixth is Karstens' Rubicon. He plunked Brett Wallace, gave up an infield single to Chris Johnson, and a ground ball single to right to Jason Castro that sent Wallace rumbling toward home.
Milledge's throw was to the first base side of the dish, and Snyder double clutched on the tag, apparently unsure of his position to the plate and allowing Wallace to drag his hand across home.
Sean Gallagher let the remaining horses out of the barn. He fed Pedro Feliz a 1-2 curve, on the outside corner and knee high, and Feliz got enough of it to drop it in the gap and score Johnson and Castro.
Mark Melancon came on in the seventh; it took him eight pitches to strike out Snyder and Diaz looking and get a grounder from pinch hitter Andy LaRoche.
Not so with Daniel McCutchen; the show just got uglier. Angel Sanchez lined a knee high heater over the middle of the plate into left for a double. Pence doubled him in with a bloop into center; he got a double out of it when no one covered second when the middle infielders were sprinting for the catch.
Two deep flies later, and Pence came across. The Astros have been just magnificent at manufacturing runs; whether that's on purpose or just bad pitching can be debated. D-Mac didn't get out of the inning; JR waved Wil Ledezema in to finish the frame.
Melancon started the eighth by drilling McCutch high on the shoulder, and was yanked for lefty Tim Byrdak. He got Jones to hit into a tailor-made 4-6-3 DP and Tabata lined out to right center.
You knew it was white flag time when Chan Ho Park took the mound in the eighth. Johnson greeted him with homer bombed into left center. Houston accepted the surrender. They sent reliever Byrdak up to bat, and NL steal leader Michael Bourn, who drew a walk, wasn't held by the Bucs and didn't make a move toward second. Talk about your mercy killings.
They didn't entirely concede. Byrdak, left in to face Pedro and Walker, walked Alvarez and gave up a single to the second baseman. Jeff Fulchino, a mop-up man, came on to take the ball. And mop up he did; he got the next three Buccos and closed the Astro's 8-2 win. Pittsburgh was outhit 11-4 today and outplayed the whole series by a team that's mediocre.
It's getting old. Fundamentally, the team doesn't execute plays at the same level as their opponents, and you would expect that aspect to have begun kicking in. They take strikes, fall behind in counts, and flail at off-speed stuff. They pitch just well enough to lose.
If the youngsters don't get a taste of success somewhere along the line, it's hard to see how they'll ever progress. The only way to learn to win games is to win games.
The Pirates have a big challenge ahead of them. If they can't fill in some of the missing pieces this winter - and we think it will depend more on trades than free agents - their whole rebuilding scheme may fall in around their ears.
James McDonald will face Chris Volstad against the Marlins in Pittsburgh tomorrow night.
-- JR's sticking with his new lineup for the top five hitters. If at first you don't succeed...
-- Why have the Pirates lost ten in a row away from PNC Park? In those ten road games, they've scored just 16 runs. Which, by the way, is the same support they've given Jeff Karstens - 16 runs in his last ten outings. They've scored just four runs for JK in his last four starts.
-- The MLB doesn't want clubs to announce their late draft signings until tomorrow, apparently believing that will help foil some greedy agents. Be that as it may, the Pirates are still supposed to be after RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Stetson Allie, SS Drew Maggi, OF Dale Carey, RHP Jason Hursh, and RHP Zach Weiss according to various reports. If they get Taillon and Allie, it will be another good draft, with the other guys as icing on the cake.
-- The Bucs and State College have extended their working agreement for two more years, through 2012. The Spikes have been the Pirates short-season team since 2006, and the location can't be beat.
The only question was whether Chuck Greenburg, who owns SC and just bought the Rangers, would take them with him. But Arlington and State College are quite a stretch apart. We're also a little curious about whether there are any conflict-of-interest rules about owning franchises of two different organizations; it seems to be kosher.
-- Remember Brian Bullington? He got his first MLB win today as a KC Royal, shutting out the Yankees 1-0. He faced the minimum 21 hitters through seven, and pitched eight frames of two-hit ball.
-- Upper St. Clair's Kevin Slowey had a 4-0 lead and no hitter going after seven. But he was pulled, and the reliever gave up a double to the second hitter he faced. Slowey did have a pitch count of 106, but whatever happened to letting a guy go for the no-no? At any rate, he got the win for the Twins - and Matt Capps closed it for his 30th save.