The Pirates started off like a SNL skit against Jason Bourgeois. Zach Duke got him to hit a two hopper to Ronny Cedeno, who almost completely whiffed on the ball. Then he took off for second on a short passed ball by Dewey; an on-line throw would have had him easily. Instead, it sailed into right center. But Duke got two grounders and a pop up, and escaped without a scratch.
McCutch reached on a error by SS Tommy Manzella; JT tried him, too, and bounced into a 6-3 DP. Neil Walker and Garrett Jones drew walks, and moved up a base on a wild pitch, but Bud Norris got Pedro swinging. An error, two walks, a wild pitch - and no runs.
Ex-Bucco Jason Michaels started the second with a double to left; at first blush, it looked like JT would run it down, but he was a step slow. Chris Johnson golfed a sinker off the end of the bat into short center to score Michaels. Duke had one more blemish, a two-out, four-pitch walk to his mound opponent, but finished off the frame down 1-0.
With one out, John Bowker hit a pop a few feet up the first base line. The catcher bumped into Norris, and the fair ball rolled almost to the railing. But Bowker watched the play, jogged to first, and blew a gimme opportunity to get to second. Heck, the much-maligned Lastings Milledge might have had an inside-the-park job. Cedeno followed with a chop single that would have probably scored him, but instead only moved him up a station.
The Zachster missed a bunt attempt; Bowker was caught flat-footed and picked off second by C Humberto Quintero. The Pirates should make players take a pledge to at least hustle before they let them pull on a uniform; running balls out, especially for a kid trying to make the 40-man roster next season, should be a no-brainer; ditto for getting back to your base.
Duke worked a 1-2-3 third. McCutch started the Bucs off with a single in their half, and went to second on a pick-off throw gone astray. JT popped out trying to bunt; we still don't understand why John Russell insists on taking the bat out of his hands.
Walker drew a base on balls, followed by a Jones' K. But Pedro made the second-guessing moot when he got one up into the breeze carrying to right and dropped it inside the Clement Wall foul pole to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
The Astros came right back. With one out, Johnson and Manzella lined singles; Manzella was credited with a double when Tabata's throw went to third instead of second. They both came in when Quintero doubled inside the third base line to tie the match. Norris put down the Bucs in order.
There was one change for the Pirates; Bowker left the game due to right knee soreness. Duke put away the Astros, helped by a pick-off of Hunter Pence. McCutch again jump started the Pirates with a hustle double; JR went against his instincts and decided to let JT swing, and he rolled an RBI single up the middle. Walker slapped a single to left to put runners on first and second.
First pitch swinging, Jones hit an infield fly rule pop to short. Amazingly, JT was almost doubled off second, just getting his foot in to barely beat Manzilla's throw. Pedro K'ed, but Dewey went the opposite way to plate Tabata. Norris was done; Tim Byrdak came on to face Alex Presley, Bowker's replacement. The LOOGY got the rookie swinging on a 3-2 curve. It was 5-3 Pittsburgh after five.
This time, given the lead, Duke put down Houston in order with a pair of K's. Jeff Fulchino put the Pirates down cleanly.
Quintero started off the seventh with a single. JR called for Sean Gallagher (is Chris Resop hurt?), ending Duke's night, and maybe marking his last appearance in Pittsburgh as a Pirate. Good choice tonight; Gallagher got a K and DP to clean up the inning. Wesley Wright got the Pirates in order.
Evan Meek came on in the eighth; he kept Houston off the board, with 2 K's and a walk. Wright gave up a Pedro single and Presley double; Houston brought in Matt Lindstrom, who wild-pitched the sixth run home.
Joel Hanrahan took the hill, looking for redemption after a terrible showing last night. A one out walk turned into a run when Brian Bogusevic lined a double into the right field corner with two outs, but Hanny got Geoff Blum to bounce out to second to preserve the 6-4 win.
The Pirate batters have been pretty impressive this homestand in being disciplined at the dish, and the results show. But the rest of the game is still a struggle, and they have a lot of work ahead of them to be considered a fundamentally strong club. Still, sticks and decent starting pitching will carry you a long way, and it's good to see those two aspects fall into place.
Paul Maholm takes on JA Happ in the final 2010 home game tomorrow afternoon.
-- The Pirates only drew 25,350 tonight on a beautiful early fall evening with a post game concert, about the same crowd they had for the last Sky Blast. Could be that the team is reaching the point that product instead of promotions will determine their attendance, especially when they overlap with football and hockey in late September.
-- Congrats to C Eric Kratz. The 30 year old was named as a replacement on the USA Baseball's 2010 Pan Am Qualifier roster. The games start in October.
-- Lauren Holly, starring in the movie "Chasing 3000," will throw out the first pitch tomorrow. The film is about two brothers who go on a road trip to see Roberto Clemente get his 3,000th hit.
-- Cincy's Aroldis Chapman made history in last night's loss to the Padres by throwing a 105 MPH fastball. It was the fastest pitch ever recorded in a MLB game, topping Joel Zumaya's previous mark of 104.8 MPH. Chapman's pitch was timed at 105.1 MPH.