It was a promising enough start. Alex Presley singled, stole second, went to third on a Chase d'Arnaud fly to right and scored on a Neil Walker liner. Jeff Karstens got through the first cleanly, giving up a pair of lineouts sandwiched around a K. 1-0 Pittsburgh after a frame.
Brett Myers had better luck in the second against the bottom of the order, giving up just a two out walk to Mike McKenry. Hunter Pence singled to start the Astro half, but Carlos Lee banged into an around-the-horn DP to erase Pence.
The Bucs manufactured some runs in the third. The King was hit by a pitch, and d'Arnaud legged out an infield single. Walker K'ed, but McCutch came up big with a triple that rolled up the terrace to plate a pair. Garrett Jones K'ed, followed by a Lyle Overbay walk. Josh Harrison K'ed too, but the Bucs put up a two spot as the side was being struck out. Karstens put away the Astros with no drama. The score was 3-0 after three.
The side went down in order in the fourth; Karstens was sitting at 35 pitches. Myers struck out the side again in the fifth, with only a McCutch walk to ruin the frame; he has ten K's already tonight. Karstens kept dealin'. Three up, three down, and a one hitter through five, facing the minimum 15 batters.
Harrison roped a single to left with one away in the sixth. He stole second as McKenry K'ed. Karstens bounced out, and that would be it for Myers, who was at 111 pitches and notched 11 strikeouts. For the Astros, pinch hitter Chris Johnson rolled a two out single through the right side, breaking JK's streak off 13 consecutive outs, and Michael Bourn followed with an infield dink. Matt Downs beat a sinker to short, and that ended the frame. Kartsens has throw 57 pitches over six innings.
Felix Rodriguez came on for the Astros. d'Arnaud greeted him with a single to center with one away. Walker lined out. d'Arnaud stole second with McCutch up, but he went down looking at a curve.
Jeff Keppinger opened the seventh with a line single to left. Pence bounced into a force out. He stole second and went to third when Lee singled off Harrison's glove. Karstens dodged the bullet when he got Brett Wallace to bounce a changeup up the middle for a 6-4-3 DP started by a nice d' Arnaud backhand flip. That kept it a 3-0 game at the end of seven, even if the past two innings were an adventure. Still, with all the action, he's only thrown 71 pitches.
Sergio Escalona took the mound for the eighth. He got ahead of Jones 0-2, but eventually lost him. Xavier Paul came on to pinch run, and a wild pitch moved him to second. Overbay banged a hanging curve to second; Keppinger couldn't handle it and Paul came around on the error. David Carpenter came out of the pen for the 'Stros. Harrison bunted; they got Overbay at second. McKenry flew out deep to straight center - and center is 435' in Minute Maid Park - for the second out, and JK whiffed.
JK worked another 1-2-3 inning, although pinch hitter Brian Bogusevic took Presley to the wall in left for the last out. Enerio del Rosario climbed the mound for Houston in the ninth. He allowed one runner, Walker, who reached base on a two-out error. It took Karstens five pitches to close out the game, the last gloved on the track in left center by McCutch.
Jeff Karstens threw a five hit shutout with 83 pitches and never went to three balls on a hitter. That's filling the strike zone, and that's what pitch-to-contact guys do. He's 8-4 with a 2.34 ERA. Kinda a pity that the Sabermetric crowd sneered him away from the All-Star consideration - too few missed bats, too many homers, unsustainable BABIP and strand numbers. Maybe they're right in the long run, but for now, he's Pittsburgh's ace.
And that's first place Pittsburgh's ace. St. Louis and Milwaukee lost tonight, so the Bucs and Cards are tied for first with the Brew Crew 1/2 game behind. This is the deepest into a season that they've had a piece of first since July 17, 1997. (Actually they are technically in first; Pittsburgh's win percentage is .5275 and the Cards is is .5269.)
LHP Paul Maholm (6-9, 2.96) goes against Bud Norris (5-6, 3.46) tomorrow night.
- Jose Tabata left Thursday night's game at Class A Bradenton with minor tightness in his left quad. He'll be held out at least for the next two days.
- Ronny Cedeno will likely start his minor league rehab after the weekend.
- Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reports the Pirates are sniffing around Twin RHP Kevin Slowey, a hurler they were supposed to have some interest in from the past. The Upper St. Clair native is another strike throwing, pitch-to-contact guy (6.8 K/9 innings) and has been on the DL most of the year. The 27 year old is healthy now and throwing for AAA Rochester, with a MLB career line of 39-21/4.43 ERA.
- Jim Callis of Baseball America says the Pirates have handed out two of the highest bonuses by round so far this year - the $240K deal with RHP Colten Brewer in the fourth round and the $250K sugar for RHP Jason Creasey in the eighth round.