Well, kinda a Jekyl and Hyde beginning. McCutch triples, Garrett Jones goes yard, and JT reaches on an error. But before the inning could blow up, Pedro, Neil Walker, and Dewey all K'ed swinging. Good Bud Norris, bad Bud Norris.
In the second, the Bucs tried for more when Jeff Clement and Argenis Diaz singled to start the frame. Paul Maholm bunted into a force at second, McCutch K'd swinging - check that kid for a spitter (actually, he's working a 95 MPH heater and slider) - and Jose Tabata lined out.
At the end of four, Norris had eight K's, all but one swinging. That goes a long way toward explaining the Pirates' 1-for-6 with RISP.
Maholm's fourth didn't go so well; his pitch was a hanging changeup, and Hunter Pence yanked it into the left field cheap seats. With one out, Jeff Keppinger lined a double into left, but PM got the next two hitters to ground out.
Norris got two more swinging K's in the fifth; after getting slopped to death last night, they apparently forgot how to hit heat tonight. Maybe if they quit taking first pitch strikes, their luck would improve.
Not only can Norris pitch, but he brought his lucky bat tonight. With one away in the fifth, he doubled to left, his second hit of the game. He moved to third on a groundout, and there he stayed. Maholm has been dodging bullets the past couple of frames, but that's his MO.
Pedro was 3-for-3 last night; he's 3-for-3 tonight, too - three at-bats, three swinging strikeouts. Dewey broke a streak of 14 consecutive retired Bucco batters when with two outs, he took one on the foot for the team. But Clement - did you guess? - struck out swinging to end the inning, golfing at two sliders that had ball four written all over them.
Pence doubled off the wall in left to start the sixth, and Carlos Lee lifted one deep enough to center to get him to third. Keppinger drew a walk to put runners on the corners with one away.
Pence broke on contact on a Jay Michaels grounder to third and was gunned out at home by Pedro, but Michaels beat the throw to second to put runners on second and third with two outs. PM got Chris Johnson to hit into a 5-3, and he continued to dance between the raindrops. Houston is a very Pirate-like 0-for-7 with RISP.
Give Norris credit; he was pumping out the heat at 95 in the first inning, and it's still coming in at 95 in the seventh. He got Diaz swinging on a changeup to start the inning. And give Maholm credit; he collected the first Pirate hit since the second when he lined a slider into right.
McCutch grounded into a forceout, and stole second. He needed to steal two more sacks; Jones struck out swinging, the fourteenth K for Norris.
Humberto Quintero started of the Astro seventh with a line drive single to right, and it's still a mystery why the Pirates pitch an opposite field hitter like him away. He's a .213 hitter against the league, but a .294 batter against the Bucs. Houston brought in a pinch-hitter to bunt him to second.
Mahiolm faced another pinch-hitter, Pedro Feliz. After falling behind 3-0, he came back to get him - yes, swinging (and at ball four, yet). But he played on the edge too long; Angel Sanchez hit a soft lob into right, Quintero beat the ill-advised throw home, and Sanchez moved on to second.
That throw would hurt when Hunter Pence doubled to left, bringing him home. It was time for Chris Resop, who appears to be JR's seventh inning arm in the restructured pen. Maholm went 6-2/3 innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with a walk and four K's, a workmanlike performance.
Resop got Carlos Lee, feeding him nothing but fastballs away until he lined a ball to center and McCutch. But the damage was done; it's 3-2 Houston after seven.
Wilton Lopez took the hill for Houston in the eighth. And hey, Tabata started off the inning by going down swinging on three straight heaters So did Pedro, keeping his perfect game alive. Walker lined out, and the Bucs were down to three last outs.
Resop stayed on, probably a good thing they way Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahna are going. Then again, maybe not - he walked Michaels with one away the bottom of the eighth. Resop rallied to strike out Johnson and Brett Wallace swinging to give the Bucs a chance in the ninth.
They faced Brandon Lyon. Dewey hit a soft liner back to the mound, but Clement kept the light lit with a roped single to left, and Ronny Cedeno came on to run for him. Delwyn Young struck out, fishing for a ball in the dirt. Lastings Milledge pinch hit for Resop, and while he was up, RC stole second.
LM ended the game, not on a swinging strikeout, which probably would have been appropriate, but a bouncer to second.
Bud Norris had 14 Ks, the most ever by starting pitcher in one game at Minute Maid Park. The last starting pitcher to get 15+ Ks against Pirates was Randy Johnson in 2001. The Pirates struck out 17 times tonight against three pitchers, and amazingly enough, their plate discipline got worse as the game wore on.
Hey, it's time to quit crying about the pitching; it's held up fairly well recently. But the Pirates are stuck with the double whammy of a bunch of kids learning how to bat at the MLB level at the same time, and a deflating lack of power.
There's no immediate help for the starting pitching or a power bat in the system. It'll make for an interesting winter. If they think this is truly the future core, then the suits have to find a couple of pieces to make them competitive.
Jeff Karstens will take on JA Happ in the series finale tomorrow afternoon.
-- JR rearranged the top five guys in the lineup for tonight's game - the new batting order for the gang is now McCutchen, Jones, Tabata, Alvarez, and Walker.
He gets the righty-lefty spacing he didn't have before; and we like Walker and Alvarez in spots where they can drive in a couple of more runs. Jones and Tabata (we would have switched Tabata with McCutch) are badly out of position, though. No doubt JR's thinking is that other teams are bringing in their LOOGY and getting a 2-for-1 with Pedro and Jones, and he wanted to break that up.
We'll see what happens; sometimes you need to shake things up a little when the going gets tough, as it's been for the hitters of late.
-- 100 years ago yesterday, in the most evenly matched game ever played, the Pirates and Superbas (now the Dodgers) each had eight runs, 13 hits, 38 at-bats, five strikeouts, three walks, one hit batter, one passed ball, 13 assists, 27 putouts, two errors, and use two pitchers. Darkness ended the game before the symmetry was spoiled. This historic tidbit is from the Baseball Reference Bullpen.