It didn't start off great; Michael Bourn singled to center, and after an out, Hunter Pence knocked one into left. But Carlos Lee bounced one back to Jeff Karstens, and the 1-4-3 DP closed the frame. For the Bucs, Matt Diaz lined a two-out knock to right off Wandy Rodriguez, followed by a McCutch pop out. No score after one.
Brett Wallace flew out to the track in left center. Chris Johnson went down swinging. Clint Barmes flew out to McCutch, and it was a clean second for JK.
Neil Walker took the first pitch to the track in right center for the first out. Lyle Overbay followed with a rope to right for a knock. The next pitch was a two-seamer down the pipe, and Brandon Wood didn't miss. He knocked it over the right center wall for his fourth homer and a 2-0 Bucco lead.
Karstens threw another 1-2-3 inning, filling up the strike zone. Of his 35 pitches, 28 have been strikes. Rodriguez K'ed Alex Presley and Chase d'Arnaud. Diaz rolled one to short, and it was a quiet third.
With two outs in the fourth, Lee ended Karstens' streak of nine in a row by drilling one up the line past third for a double. Wallace again sent the ball to the track, this time in center, and McCutch was there to haul it in.
In a ten-pitch battle, Rodriguez won by striking out McCutch swinging at a curve. Walker lined one into left for a double. An out later, Wood remained the man of the hour by drilling a heater up the middle to bring home The Pittsburgh Kid and give the Pirates a 3-0 lead after four.
With one out, Karstens tried to overcome a 3-0 count on Johnson. On the eighth pitch, Johnson caught an elevated heater and knocked it over the left center wall for his fourth long fly. It was 3-1 Pittsburgh after 4-1/2 innings.
Karstens started off the Bucco half by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Presley whiffed on a 3-2 curve. d'Araund went down swinging, fishing for three pitches off the plate. Diaz kept the inning alive with a double to right, Karstens stopping at third. McCutch worked the count full before bouncing out to Johnson.
Bourn flew out to left and Keppinger took Presley to the wall in left center for the second out. Pence bounced one up the middle. Lee flew out to center short of the track in front of the bullpen, and Karstens had six innings under his belt.
Walker started off with an infield single; an Overbay bloop put runners on first and second. Wood worked the count full, and walked on the tenth pitch on a curve in the dirt to load the sacks. Rodriguez was at 102 pitches, but had McKenry and Karstens coming up, so Brad Mills kept him in.
McKenry did his job, flying out fairly deep to right to bring home Walker and sending Overbay to third. Karstens did, too - his suicide squeeze plated Overbay (Overbay! That's confidence) and got Wood to second. Presley hit a comebacker to end the frame, but it was now 5-1 Bucs. Mills made his second curious call of the series by leaving Rodriguez in; he must really dread going to his bullpen.
Karstens was careful to Wallace, who has already hit a couple of balls pretty well, and got him on a roller. Johnson flew out. With two away, Barmes poked a two strike slider six inches off the plate into right for a single. JK struck out JR Towles to strand him..
Fernando Rodriguez took over for Wandy. After an out, Diaz lined a single to left; he was picked off shortly thereafter, breaking early on a steal attempt. McCutch walked. Rodriguez did a good job of keeping his heater at the kness, and got Walker to fly out.
Pinch hitter Angel Sanchez opened the eighth with a rope to center. That was the end of Karstens' rope. JK went seven innings, giving up a run on seven hits with three K's. He threw 95 pitches and got a standing ovation from the 18,151 fans in the house. Tony Watson toed the rubber while Xavier Paul took over in right.
Bourn rolled a high 2-0 fastball through the right side to put runners at first and second, and that was the night for Watson; relievers have to throw strikes. Jose Veras took the ball with Keppinger up and Pence and Lee waiting.
Veras got Keppinger to hit into a force play at second. He didn't get the call on a close 1-2 curveball, but got Pence swinging on the next hook. Lee grounded the next pitch to third, and Veras kept the Bucco lead at four with three outs to go.
The Bucs faced yet another of the Astrods; this time it was Aneury Rodriguez. He put the Bucs down cleanly, and Chris Resop took the hill in the ninth. He K'ed the first two 'Stros on seven pitches and got Barmes to pop out. Roll on, Pittsburgh. Karstens is now 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA. Hey, if Ryan Vogelsong can be an All Star, why not JK? A feel-good story bears repeating, right?
Today was a victory earned mainly by the quiet guys. Karstens continued his season of dreams, and Veras again calmly put out a fire. Wood, who started because Josh Harrison was clocked at home last night, had three RBI, and Overbay scored twice, as did Walker. Diaz had three hits. The clutch at-bat, though, may have been McKenry's sac fly that brought home a run and set up another. If he falters in that situation with the pitcher up next, the game may have taken on an entirely different spin.
Charlie Morton will try to broom the Astros tomorrow night when he takes on Bud Norris.
- Jeff Karstens has given up 17 homers; 16 have been solo shots. That's not luck, but shows that in a bases empty situation, he goes after guys by throwing strikes and pitching to contact. The hitters might win some of the battles, but Karstens has sure been winning the war this year.
- Josh Harrison just got dinged yesterday after the collision at the plate that caused him to sit the last six innings. Tests proved negative for a concussion. He'll get the night off, although he's available off the bench.
- Joel Hanrahan was named MLB’s "Delivery Man of the Month" for June. He went 9-for-9 in save opportunities with a 0.71 ERA.
- Jeff Karstens' win tonight gave the Pirates starters 34 victories this season, the same number they won in all of 2010. The win also put Pittsburgh over the .500 mark at home with a 21-20 slate.
- The last time the Pirates were four games or more above .500 this late in the season was 1992, which was also the last time they had a winning record.
- A crowd of 18,000+ may not seem like much, but Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review tweeted that half of the seats were sold since Saturday.
- Joe Beimel is on schedule to return to the roster right after All-Star break. Pedro may be, too.
- Class A Bradenton Marauder 2B Jarek Cunningham, 21, was named Florida State League Player of the Week today. He hit .333 with three homers and 10 RBI.
- Good news finally for the first place Cards. Despite an expected recovery time of about six weeks for his fractured wrist, Albert Pujols is back and available off the bench after just 15 days off.