Edgar Gonzalez put the Bucs down quietly in the first. After striking out Jose Altuve, Jeff Locke gave up a knock to Brandon Barnes on a 1-2 slider. Matt Dominguez flied out on an 0-2 pitch, but his control left him with Justin Maxwell up, and he was walked on four pitches. Locke fell behind Jed Lowrie 2-1, left a heater up above the belt, and it was 3-0 after the ball cleared the short Crawford boxes in left, the Bucs bane at Minute Maid. It's also Locke's bug-a-boo - Lowrie's homer was the sixth he's allowed in just over 20 IP.
Pedro got the Bucs first knock with two down in the second after spoiling a few offerings. The Fort got a steady diet of curves away and walked on a full count. Gonzalez was given the hook at that point by skipper Tony DeFrancesco (he strained his hammy) and replaced by Fernando Rodriguez. Brock Holt legged out an infield knock to bring up Locke, who K'ed. He made up by tossing a clean frame against the bottom of the 'Stro order.
Starling Marte opened the third with a knock to center. He took off for second, but Clint Barmes bunted a ball off his own back and was rung up for interference. Down 3-0 and bunting the two hitter? With Cutch up, Marte was caught stealing on a pitchout; so much for advancing him. McCutch got ahead 2-0, fouled a high heater and watched another pair sail by him on the inside black; it was about as inept an inning as the Bucs have put together at the dish.
Altuve doubled in the Astro half on Locke's first pitch and eventually swiped third. Barnes whiffed on a changeup and Dominguez popped out. Locke walked Maxwell again with two outs, but this time he escaped damage. After falling behind Lowrie 3-0, he picked up a couple of strikes on the outside corner and got him swinging after a foul.
Pittsburgh went down without a peep in the fourth. So did the Astros, whiffing twice; Locke has seven K and fanned three of the last four batters. The Bucs went down in order in the fifth; that's eight in a row. With two down in the Houston half, Barnes drew a five pitch walk and was left on first as Locke is settling in.
Marte opened the sixth with a knock against Jose Valdez, and was forced at second on a sweet play by Altuve on Barmes. Cutch singled Barmes to second. Lefty Xavier Cedeno came on and got Garrett Jones on a fly out, then walked Gaby Sanchez to load the sacks. Pedro went down swinging on three curves, only one of which was a strike, and the Bucs left the sacks juiced for the second time tonight. It would prove to be their last hurrah.
Locke called it a night, going five innings and giving up three runs on three hits and three walks with eight whiffs, tossing 83 pitches. He was more aggressive throwing strikes tonight, and probably earned himself another start. James McDonald made his first appearance out of the pen as a Pirate. Maxwell greeted him with a homer, and Lowrie was plunked. Brett Wallace tripled, and the game was over but for the shouting. Brian Bogusevich walked on a 3-2 pitch. J-Mick left for Bryan Morris; McDonald lasted 15 pitches and four batters without getting an out, even worse than Chad Quall's outing yesterday.
Morris started off well, whiffing Snyder. Scott Moore pinch hit for Cedeno while Bogusevich stole second. He walked to load the bases and bring up the top of the order. Morris hit Altuve to bring in a run, then fanned Barnes on a slider. Dominguez bounced out, but it was 6-0 and the Fat Lady was gargling.
Mickey Storey was called in as the Astros fifth pitcher. After McKenry whiffed, Holt reached on a error by the pitcher. JT went down, swinging at a hook at the ankles. Marte went down swinging and the Buc batters were rung up for their ninth K of the night. Hisanori Takahashi got a rare call to work the Houston half. He got the first pair of batters, then watched Wallace club the 'Stros third long ball off a 1-2 slider to make it 7-0. Bogusevich lined out to end the frame.
Rhiner Cruz toed the rubber in the eighth. After fanning the first two Bucs, he fell behind Jones 3-0, who took a strike and then launched the next delivery, a heater on the inside corner, over the fence in right center. Justin Wilson took the ball from Takahashi, and lost Snyder on five pitches. He pumped some gas past Matt Downs for the first out, and got the second when Altuve fished for a curve in the dirt that allowed Snyder to get to second. Wilson then walked Barnes on a 3-2 heater. Dominguez flied out, and the Bucs were three outs from another loss.
Wilton Lopez came on to administer the last rites. He K'ed Pedro, then after an eleven pitch duel, gave up a single to The Fort. Holt banged into a DP, and the burial ceremony was complete.
The slide continues; they're two games under .500 and sinking faster than the Titanic. Geez, it just seemed like yesterday that they were collecting playoff ticket money. The team has to win 8-of-12 the rest of the way to finish with a winning record now.
Kevin Correia takes on Dallas Keuchel tomorrow night.
- Houston is 9-10 in September. The Pirates are 4-15.
- Why aren't the Bucs putting Jeff Karstens back in the rotation? Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review has some thoughts on that matter.