Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bucs Blast 'Stros 7-3

Charlie Morton is going to try to put the squeeze on the Minute Maid Men tonight, but JA Happ gets to go first  against the Buccos. He started off pretty well, getting JT and Matt Diaz routinely. Rapp lost McCutch on a 3-2 pitch, and The Pittsburgh Kid followed by ripping a three-bagger into right when the ball eluded a sliding Hinter Pence.  Lyle Overbay whiffed, but the Bucs were up 1-0.

Morton got the first two guys on grounders, then he too ran into the two-out blues.  Pence dropped a single into center, and Carlos Lee bounced a ball into left. Brett Wallace walked on four pitches. Morton got Chris Johnson to hit into a force, but was showing control problems again, and used up 26 pitches to get through the first frame.

With one away, Mike McKenry collected his first MLB hit, a liner over the shortstop's head into left. The next two Buccos K'ed, but hey, it's always nice to get your first knock outta the way. Morton retired the bottom of the Astro lineup 1-2-3. 

With one out, Diaz pulled a high and tight heater into the left field corner for a double. With two outs, Neil Walker lined a 2-1 change past the shortstop into center to plate Diaz. Overbay walked on four pitches. Wood struck out swinging, but thanks to Walker, the Bucs held a 2-0 lead early. 

It's was a Brandon Wood third inning in the field, and it wasn't exactly pretty.  Burner Michael Bourne singled off his glove, and then Jeff Keppinger knocked one through the hole.  Morton locked in and got Pence and Lee swinging, but lefty Wallace was jammed with two strikes and fisted a soft liner toward Wood; he climbed the ladder, but was about a glove length short of coming down with the ball; it was 2-1 Pittsburgh.

Then Johnson hit a three hopper to Wood's right; it clanged off his glove for an error.  Clint Barmes then banged a one hopper to third; Wood corralled  this one and stepped on the bag for the force to end the inning. Morton was sitting on sixty pitches after just three frames.

With one out in the fourth, Ronny Cedeno legged out a single in the shortstop hole. Morton bunted him over, but as the Bucco MO with runners on second tonight, Tabata struck out looking. 

As if Morton didn't have enough problems with the pitch count, JR Towles drew a walk after nine pitches, fouling off 4 straight 3-2 offerings. Happ bunted him over.  Bourne then flared a soft single into left, and Towles just touched the plate under the tag of McKenry on a good throw by JT. But Bourne went to second on the play and stole third off Morton.

Jeff Keppinger, with the infield in, lined one toward short, right at Cedeno, for the second out.  Pence went down swinging on a 3-2 pitch.  It's 2-2 after four, and Morton is up to 85 pitches.

The Bucs loaded the sacks in the fifth, but to no avail.  McCutch doubled with on a ball that rattled around in left with one away, and Walker was intentionally walked.  Overbay hit a DP ball to second; Keppinger dropped it and took the out at first.  Wood walked, but McKenry K'ed, swinging at a ball that was noggin high. Rapp joined Morton in the sky-high pitch count parade; he's up to 106 after that frame. 

The 'Stros took the lead in their half. After an out, Wallace singled through the right side to reach base for the third time; Morton and lefties don't mix well.  Johnson bounced one to third, and Wood ho-hummed the feed to second, costing the Bucs any chance of a DP.  Barmes made the infield pay when he got an elevated 3-2 heater and banged it high off the bullpen fence to bring home Johnson.

Enerio Del Rosario came on in the sixth. The Bucs finally put a couple runs on the board, thanks greatly to an errant toss.  Xavier Paul doubled the opposite hitting for Morton with one away. JT lined one into left to put runners on the corners. Garrett Jones, pinch hitting for Diaz, shot a single into right just past a diving Wallace to score Paul and send Tabata to third. 

McCutch checked off the first pitch, but the delivery caught the bat and resulted in a hopper to first.  Wallace fired home, missing the mark badly, and the Bucs took the lead as Jones rolled into third. Walker hit a sac liner to left, and it was 5-3 Pittsburgh.  Morton went five innings, giving up three runs on eight hits with two walks and three K's; he tossed 109 pitches.

D-Mac came on for Pittsburgh.  After an out, he plunked Bourne. Keppinger flew out deep to left, and Pence rolled one slowly up the middle that Walker ran down but had to eat.  Carlos Lee made McCutchen work, but bounced out to short on a 3-2 pitch.

Fernando Rodriguez came on to work for Houston. McKenry collected his second hit, a liner to center, with one away. With two away, Paul smacked his first Bucco homer into the Crawford boxes, and it was 7-3 Pirates. 

The Astros went down in order in the seventh; the Bucs got a McCutch walk to start the eighth, but little else; Overbay and Wood looked bad K'ing at junk.  McCutchen gave up a couple of singles in the eighth, but finished up a three inning, 52 pitch outing, his longest of the year, without giving up any Astro scores.  He yielded three hits and struck out one

Mark Melancon took the ball for Houston in the ninth. Cedeno and Paul singled off him, but were stranded. Chris Resop took the hill for Pittsburgh, but it was a short visit. With an out, he walked Wallace and Matt Downs, in a lengthy 11 pitch at-bat, lined a single into left. That made it Hanny time.

He got a weak bouncer to third for the second out and K'ed Towles to earn save #19. Pity it came to that, though; Joel Hanrahan has been in three consecutive games, and Hurdle's rule is no one comes out of the pen four straight days, so he'll be in an easy chair tomorrow. Still, a win is a win, and the Bucs are over .500 in mid-June at 34-33, who'd thunk it? The last time they were over .500 later in the season than this was August 15th, 1999. 

It was nice to see the offense charge down the hill to lead the win today.  They collected 14 hits, and though they stranded 13, seven runs is a good night's work. Paul had three hits, and Tabata, Walker, Cedeno and McKenry had a pair each. Houston had a dozen knocks and left 14 on base. Both teams shot themselves in the foot with RISP.  Pittsburgh was 3-for-16 and Houston 2-for-14. 

Tomorrow's get-away game will match James McDonald against Jordan Lyle. 

  • Xavier Paul's homer was his second MLB blast; his first was in 2009 with LA. His mom and family took the five hour drive from his hometown of New Orleans to Houston; they got to see him go 3-for-3 with a homer and double off the bench.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review reports that Josh Harrison passed his BP test, and should be available tomorrow night, at least to pinch hit.
  • Paul Daugherty of Sports Illustrated has a feature on this year's come-back kid, Charlie Morton.

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