In its own cruel way, baseball often gives its participants one chance, one inch to make a difference.
And, to be sure, the Pirates had a few of those last night in their 2-0 loss to Houston before 13,183 at rain-soaked PNC Park ...
Xavier Nady might well have made a fine, sliding catch on Lance Berkman's high fly down the right-field line in the first inning, but a nagging hamstring and groin issues kept him from getting a good jump. It skipped off his glove for an RBI double.
That made it 1-0.
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (2-4, 4.41) vs. RHP Roy Oswalt (4-5, 5.45).
- Key matchup: The Pirates have two extremes vs. Oswalt, with Jack Wilson owning a career .361 average -- over 61 at-bats, no less -- and Xavier Nady 1 for 17 with four strikeouts.
- Of note: Houston's Lance Berkman leads Major League Baseball with 155 total bases, including a franchise-record 89 while batting .471 in May.
Kazuo Matsui's chopper just to the left of third baseman Jose Bautista well have been the first out of the sixth inning. Instead, it sneaked under his glove for an infield single. Miguel Tejada followed with an RBI double.
That made it 2-0.
Then, in the bottom half, the Pirates had their best chance, loading the bases against Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez. But Adam LaRoche, who lugged a 1-for-23 lull into the box, lined out sharply to a leaping Tejada at short to end the inning.
Had that ball cleared Tejada, given the way center fielder Michael Bourn was shading LaRoche to right ...
"A lot of people would have scored," LaRoche said after another 0-for-4 dropped his average to .211. "But that's woulda, coulda, shoulda. That doesn't help."
It certainly did not help Phil Dumatrait, who turned in another solid start in limiting Houston to two runs over six innings. He allowed seven hits and three walks, but he seemed very much in command throughout. The only ball struck with significant authority was Tejada's double, and even that came off a decent slider -- perhaps too much over the plate -- that Tejada impressively golfed into left.
"Phil's been very consistent, down in the zone and throwing a lot of different pitches for strikes," Pirates manager John Russell said. "And he's been like that since he's gone into the rotation."
Dumatrait has been charged with three earned runs in his past three starts, prompting at least one fellow starter to give him a bold distinction.
"He's our ace," Ian Snell said after the game from the stall next to Dumatrait's. "I'm putting that label on him. He's pitching great."
Dumatrait, befitting his low-key personality, wanted no part of it.
"Oh, no," he said with a small laugh. "I consider what I'm doing a work in progress, obviously. I'm just going out there and doing my best. But I'll tell you what: I do feel confident. I feel like the ball's coming great out of my hand, and a lot of good things are happening."A work in progressNumbers for Phil Dumatrait in his past three starts:
Most of those good things, it would appear, are the result of that versatility Russell mentioned. Consider Dumatrait's sequence, for example, in fanning the leadoff man Bourn in the sixth: Slider, fastball, changeup, fastball, slider, changeup and a 91-mph fastball for a swinging third strike.
The changeup, taught to him by pitching coach Jeff Andrews in spring training, is cited by all concerned as instrumental.
"It's probably everything for me, to be honest," Dumatrait said. "I'm working my fastball inside and outside and getting some other pitches, too, but that's the one that keeps everyone guessing, lefties and righties. It's made the difference."
His showing, of course, was negated by Houston's Rodriguez, who, in making his second start since coming off the disabled list for a groin injury, pitched aggressively in holding the Pirates scoreless through six. Some balls were stung off him, and he hardly was dominant, but the efficiency was enough: Through five innings, he had thrown just 64 pitches.
"I got into a good rhythm early," Rodriguez said.
The Astros got one inning of scoreless relief each from Chris Sampson, Doug Brocail and Jose Valverde to hand the Pirates, the National League's No. 4 team in total runs with 285, their first shutout loss since Sept. 27 of last year.
The Texas Rangers now are the only team in Major League Baseball that has not been blanked.
The game, attended by 13,183, was played through a near-constant rain.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 4, 2008 4:00 AM