Bud Norris has been up and down, but he has a good heater/slider duo. He's got a lifetime 3-4/4.04 line against the Pirates and an impressive 57 K in 49 IP. J-Mac is on a whiff roll of his own, so tighten your seat belts and get ready for a good series opener.
McDonald started off as usual, K'ing the first pair of Astros before giving up a walk. Norris was just as tough, fanning McLouth and Cutch in a 1-2-3 opening.
Brian Bogusevich punched an outside delivery the other way for an leadoff single, and Chris Johnson followed with an 0-2 knock to right when J-Mac caught too much plate trying to jam him. With runners on the corners, Justin Maxwell spanked one to Pedro, and the trade was made. The Bucs got a 5-4-3 DP and Houston got a run. The Bucs went down quietly again as Jordan Schafer in center made it look easy, running down liners to both gaps hit by Neil Walker and Garrett Jones.
Houston went down in order in the third, thanks to a diving stop and strong throw by El Toro on a Jose Altuve hot shot. For the Pirates, it was line out or K. Rod Barajas drilled an 0-2 pitch to left straight at Maxwell, who was handcuffed a bit but made the grab. Clint Barmes and J-Mac went down on strikes, and Norris had a perfect tour through the order, with 5 K.
The Astros went down 1-2-3, with the fourth frame ending on another nice play by Alvarez, who stuck with a chopper up the line that spun nastily back toward the infield. The Pirates blew a golden opp in their half.
JT began things with a triple that took a big hop off the Clemente wall. Then the frustration began. Nate McLouth swung at the first pitch, high and tight, and popped it up. The infield was back against Cutch, but with two strikes (he was either fooled by the sliders or harassed by the mayflies, maybe both), they broke in on the delivery. A one-hopper to short turned into an easy out at the dish. Then Cutch was called out trying to steal second on a close play.
J-Mac continued his mastery, putting Houston down and running his streak to ten in a row. Walker hit one a step or two from the fence in front of the bullpen in left center, but that was the only noisy out of the frame. Norris has faced fifteen hitters through five.
The Astros missed a chance in the sixth. With one out, Jed Lowrie golfed a ball off the wall in right. It hit the padding and died, and he headed to third. Walker threw a strike to Alvarez, and got the call on Pedro's quick tag on a bang-bang play.
Barajas opened the Bucco half by clanging a double off the bullpen door, 405' away. Clint Barmes punched a two-strike slider into right, and the Pirates had runners at the corners for J-Mac. He rolled a bunt up the first base line, and Norris dropped it while spinning toward first to juice the sacks.
JT worked the count to 3-2 and got a heater down the middle. He swung through it. Given a chance to redeem himself, McLouth popped out on another 3-2 count, even with seeing three straight four seamers. Cutch K'ed on a 2-2 check swing at a slider. Norris dodged another bullet. He just blew heat past the first pair and broke sliders against McCutchen.
The Astros got a two-out knock in the seventh before J-Mac put them away. Wesley Wright took the hill for Houston, after Norris had given up three hits and K'ed eight in his six frames while tossing 94 balls. Wright retired a pair of hitters before calling it a night. Casey McGehee came on to test the lefty, and Brad Mills called the pen for RHP Wilton Lopez, who K'ed him looking.
The Astros sat down in order in the eighth. McDonald went eight, giving up a run on four hits and two walks with 8 K, throwing 107 pitches. He had it all going, getting 10 outs on the ground to go with the whiffs. the sad sack Bucs continued to shoot holes in their feet with a comical inning.
Barajas singled to open the frame, and Josh Harrison came in to run. Barmes tried to lay down a bunt twice, and even a third time, which stirred a ruckus (along with the question "why?"). The pitch rode in, and Barmes pulled back, with the ball catching either his bat or hand or both.
First he was called out, but then a quick conference between Hurdle and the ump brought him back. That, of course, set off Brad Mills, who after working it way too long managed to get tossed by a very patient Jim Joyce. Apparently the call was that Barmes wasn't trying to bunt but just escape in one piece, and it was just a foul ball.
Like it mattered. Harrison was caught leaning and got picked off first, Barmes bounced to short, and Alex Presley K'ed as a pinch hitter. Jared Hughes climbed the hill for the ninth and put Houston away 1-2-3. He even got the crowd into it when big Carlos Lee tried to launch a sinker, swung over it, and hit the deck. You'd expect that more from a Pirate hitter tonight, but hey...
Brett Myers, once one of the NL's most dependable starters, came on to close against the top of the order. Three up, three down, and the Bucs lost 1-0.
Pittsburgh had a couple of chances, but McLouth couldn't hit a fastball tonight, Cutch couldn't lay off sliders and Barmes couldn't drop a bunt. The bottom of the order is not only problematic, but left field is becoming a dark hole, too. We could be seeing a lot more of Garrett Jones and Yamaico Navarro in the lineup until Starling Marte is ready.
Both sides had four hits; the only run scored on a DP. The Pirates had six runners aboard; three were thrown out on the basepaths. Still, when there's a runner on third with no outs twice, it's a game you should win 2-1, not lose 1-0.
JA Happ takes on Charlie Morton tomorrow.
- This was only the second time in his career that James McDonald went eight full innings. It's the fourth straight time he's gone 7+.
- Bud Norris is another pitcher whose strike out high came against Pittsburgh, when he whiffed 14 in 2010.