Two up, two down for Paul Maholm. Then Hunter Pence, unstoppable against the Bucs, singled up the middle. Carlos Lee bounced one up the line that got under Pedro's glove and into the corner, and it was 1-0 before the Pirates picked up a stick.
McCutch led off against JA Happ with a walk. But Happ showed why he was the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt deal, getting ahead of the next three hitters 0-2 and striking out a pair of them; Andrew McCutchen never had a chance to advance past first.
Jason Michaels led off the second with a double off the top off the bullpen wall just past the Notch, but PM hung tough, and kept him anchored with a bounce out and two whiffs. Pedro started the Pirates off with a hard single off Lee's mitt. An out later, Andy LaRoche legged out an infield single. Happ got Chris Snyder and Maholm on grounders to escape the jam.
Maholm got through the third just fine, showing the good sense to walk Pence with two away. McCutch had a rough frame; he started off by keeping hit by a Happ heater, and a couple of pitches later, took a knee to the noggin sliding into second during a JT force-out. Tabata stole second with two away, but that was the sum of the Pirate action.
The Astros went quietly in the fourth thanks to a 4-6-3 DP; the Pirates went down in order.
Pirate glovework put Maholm in hot water in the fifth. With two outs, LaRoche roamed far to his right to make a play, but couldn't connect with the pitcher for the out; nice range, but it was a routine grounder to second. Then a two hopper to Ronny Cedeno came up on him and bounced off his chest, putting runners on first and second for Pence. But Maholm got him on a short pop to center, breaking his bat in the process.
The Pirates got a two out single from McCutch, and that was it. Lee started the Astros sixth with a single that went under Cedeno's glove in the hole, but was erased on a 6-4-3 DP. The Bucs were about to get a big hand from Houston.
With one out, Jones walked and went to third on a hit-and-run single by El Toro. Cedeno hit a sharp grounder to Chris Johnson at third, who was playing in, and he had Jones hung up. His throw home was a little late, though in time for the out, but went off catcher Jason Castro's glove, allowing the run. LaRoche follwed with a sac fly to right, and the Pirates were up 2-1.
Maholm was a batter away from being pulled for a pinch hitter, but worked the seventh, and threw got his first frame without allowing a baserunner. Mark Melancon took the hill for Houston.
PM did get the hook, for DY. He went seven frames, giving up a run on six hits and a walk, striking out seven, a strong outing for the up-and-down Maholm. Young walked, and McCutch collected his third hit, a single, to put runners at first and second. JT struck out, and the 'Stros brought out lefty Fernando Abad.
Walker greeted him with an RBI single. Jones flew out, and then Pedro laced a heater off the top of the Clemente Wall, doubling in a pair. Goodbye, Abad, hello Wilton Lopez. He got Cedeno on a grounder to third, but it was 5-1 Pirates with six outs to go.
Evan Meek got three of them, but not easily; his control was off. He gave up a walk and two-run blast by Pence; he also struck out a pair, one after falling behind 3-0. Felipe Paulino took the hill for the Astros.
The Bucs shrugged it off and dropped a four-spot on the 'Stros to ice it in the eighth. Alex Presley lined a single to right center, and went to second on a wild pitch. Snyder bounced one to short; for some reason, Presley decided to go the third. The throw beat him to the bag, but was high and he slid in just under the tag to put runners on the corners.
Dewey pinch hit and lined an RBI single into right. McCutch hit one that Angel Sanchez made a nice diving play on; he threw home to get Snyder. The throw was high and Snyder could have scored had he slid; whether he didn't pick up Tabata's sign or Tabata didn't give one, we couldn't tell.
Didn't make all that much difference. JT singled to load the bases, and lefty Tim Byrdak was summoned. Walker roped an opposite field double to plate a pair and Jones added a sac fly; it was Fat Lady time at 8-3.
Chan Ho Park got the first two outs easily; a double and a walk with two outs went for naught when he got Jason Bourgeois on a short fly to right.
We hope the Pirates can take some of their home success on the road for their final seven games; it would be a great boost to a young club to taste some late success. Again, the Buc batters were aggressive with strikes and laid off the junk. They took balls the opposite way. The hitting has been quite a story during this last home stand, and the starting pitching has by and large held its own.
But it has be taken in the context of September baseball, and the games have been against teams either out of it or in St. Louis' case, on life support. Still, it's a jump start into 2011 if they can take three or four games on this final road trip, no small task given their record.
Charlie Morton starts the Pirates' final road trip against the Cards' Kyle Lohse tomorrow night.
-- Andy LaRoche got the start at first today; Garrett Jones moved to right in the absence of John Bowker.
-- John Bowker's knee soreness is a day-to-day issue. It knotted up in an area he bruised with a foul ball. Chris Resop's recent absence was explained today as a case of elbow tenderness.
-- McCutch is quietly having a terrific season in his first full campaign. Going into today's game, he ranks first among all NL center fielders in OBP (.347), second in hits (152), second in runs scored (87), and second in doubles (32). He's been a workhorse, too, playing 146 games, missing a block of games only once when he sprained his shoulder.
-- Paul Maholm made his 159th start since 2005 today; Zach Duke has 158. Only two NL lefties, Doug Davis (170) and Wandy Rodriguez (166), have made more starts in that span. (Maholm's 152 starts since 2006 top the league.) They may not be consistent, but the Bucs can depend on the pair take the ball every fifth day.
-- Today is Pittsburgh's last home game of the season. They won't be back at PNC Park until April 7th, 2011, when they open against the Colorado Rockies. The 2010 Pirate attendance was 1,613,399, or 19,919 per game. It was a 2% increase over 2009's 19,479 average crowd.