Even with a win today, the Pirates will fall one short of a .500 home record. Not Zach Duke, who, by earning a win in the Pirates' 6-4 defeat of Houston in his final home start of the season, improved to 31-31 in 81 career starts at PNC Park.
"He wasn't real sharp but he found a way to get out of some jams," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He located when he needed to. It could have gotten away from him a couple times but he found a way to get out of it, his last one here at home. I was happy for him that he got through it."
Duke's 31 wins are the most in the ballpark by any pitcher.
"It's always been a pretty friendly ballpark to me," he said.
"The fans have been great to me here, ever since I first came up in 2005 they've really embraced me."
Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (8-15, 5.25) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (6-2, 2.99).
Key matchup: Happ vs. his run support. Happ has allowed six earned runs in his past three starts but Houston has lost all of them.
Of note: In 222/3 innings against Houston this season, Maholm has a 1.99 ERA but won only one of his three starts.
Duke (8-14) allowed three runs on seven hits in six-plus innings. Except for the second and fourth, when the Astros scored their runs off him, Duke faced just one batter over the minimum in the four other innings he completed.
"The curveball was my go-to pitch," he said.
The Astros scored one in the second, and Humberto Quintero's two-run double tied the score at 3-3 in the fourth. Quintero drove in Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella, who singled and doubled, with a double down the third-base line.
"I wasn't able to get the curveball down like I wanted to, I left a couple fastballs up," Duke said of the fourth.
Duke has allowed three earned runs in his past two starts and gone at least six innings in both.
"I feel pretty good on the mound right now," he said. "I feel back where I want to be."
The offense backed Duke and he left in the seventh with a 5-3 lead. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata played a large role in that offense.
Twice Tabata faced the same situation. In the third, McCutchen on second, none out. Tabata had hit safely in all seven games of the homestand. In those seven games he hit .400 with six RBIs, but Saturday, he bunted and popped out to Quintero.
"I made sure [third-base coach] Tony [Beasley] told him next time to go ahead and swing," Russell said.
In the fifth, McCutchen on second, none out. This time Tabata swung and singled to score McCutchen, the first of two runs in the inning that put the Pirates ahead for good.
"I talked to Jose about it," Russell said. "Early in the game if it's a pitcher he feels like he can handle it's better to try to get him over by swinging the bat."
The failed bunt in the third didn't matter after Pedro Alvarez roped his 13th home run over the wall in right field, scoring McCutchen and Neil Walker, to give the Pirates a 3-1 lead. Alvarez lined a 2-1 slider down and inside just over the railing. The home run was Alvarez's second since Sept. 5.
"He's really started to come into himself a little bit more right now," Russell said. "It was a huge home run for us. We weren't doing much early. He really picked us up."
Ryan Doumit's single in the fifth drove Tabata home to make the score 5-3.
Alvarez scored from third on Matt Lindstrom's wild pitch in the eighth and the Pirates led, 6-3. The Astros scored one off Joel Hanrahan in the ninth, but Hanrahan recorded his sixth save.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1158. First Published September 26, 2010 4:30 AM