Efficient Duke sinks Astros, 5-2

Backup catcher has 3 RBIs in victory

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  • Today
    • Game: Houston Astros vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
    • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: RHP Brandon Backe (4-6, 4.54) vs. LHP Paul Maholm (3-5, 4.74).
    • Key matchup: Backe vs. Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche. Neither hits Backe well -- Nady lifetime is 1 for 11; LaRoche is 2 for 10 -- but all three hits are home runs.
    • Of note: Backe has home/road problems similar to Maholm. Backe is 3-1 at home this season with a 2.90 earned run average, 1-5 (5.94) on the road. Maholm is 2-1 (3.32) at home, 1-4 (6.83) on the road.

Zach Duke's longest pitching stint in two seasons and three RBIs from light-hitting catcher Raul Chavez carried the Pirates to a 5-2 win against Houston last night at relatively deserted PNC Park.

The crowd on a rather important hockey night in Pittsburgh was announced as 9,392.

Those who did show up witnessed an efficient performance by Duke.

The left-hander, who sprinkled 71 strikes among his 108 pitches, worked 7 2/3 innings, allowing 7 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs.

It was his longest outing since Sept. 17, 2006, when he went eight innings in a 3-0 win against the New York Mets.

"A great job," manager John Russell said. "It was one of his best -- if not his best outing -- of the season. He commanded the ball down in the zone and went to his sinker pretty much all night."

"That was my bread and butter," Duke said of his sinker. "I threw a few changeups off it, and that was really the whole key."

Minor-league report
Wednesday's results

INDIANAPOLIS (29-32) beat Lehigh Valley, 4-3. RHP Jimmy Barthmaier (1-0, 3.46) allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. He retired his first 13 batters. RHP Romulo Sanchez (2.63) pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fourth save. CF Andrew McCutchen (.290) went 3 for 4 with a steal. 1B Steve Pearce (.264) went 1 for 2 with a double, walk, sacrifice fly, two RBIs and a steal. 3B Neil Walker (.224) went 0 for 2 with two walks.

ALTOONA (24-32) beat New Britain, 10-7. RHP Derek Hankins (0-2, 5.03) allowed three runs and seven hits in four innings. C Ryan Doumit (.500) went 1 for 3 with a single and played five innings behind the plate, committing one passed ball. CF Anthony Webster (.234) went 4 for 5 with two triples and two RBIs.

LYNCHBURG (23-36) (23-36) swept a doubleheader from Potomac, 14-3 and 6-4. In the first game, LHP Danny Moskos (4-3, 4.66) pitched six scoreless innings and allowed three hits. He struck out five, walked two and got nine groundouts. In the nightcap, RHP Christian Castorri (1-1, 0.63) pitched four scoreless innings and allowed two hits. For the day, RF Jamie Romak (.283) hit his ninth and 10th home runs and went 3 for 8 with a double, a walk and five RBIs. C Steve Lerud (.261) hit his eighth home run and went 4 for 7 with four RBIs.

HICKORY (28-32) lost at Asheville, 6-5. RHP Dustin Molleken (4-3, 6.02) allowed four runs and six hits in four innings. 1B Miles Durham (.321) went 2 for 4 with a double.

Duke got 10 ground-ball outs before exiting after walking Miguel Tejada in the eighth inning. Damaso Marte finished that inning before Matt Capps zipped through a perfect ninth to earn his 12th save.

Duke beat Houston right-hander Roy Oswalt, something of a feat in itself. Oswalt hadn't lost to the Pirates since April 25, 2005.

Oswalt, 30, is making the transition from being a power pitcher to more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher, and he has been a bit easier for opponents to hit this season. Opponents batted .265 against him last season. This year, opponents had a .293 average before last night's game.

In six starts dating to April 23, 2006, Oswalt had given the Pirates only 33 hits -- including just one home run -- five walks and five runs (four earned) in 40 2/3 innings.

Oswalt was a tad more generous last night after Ty Wigginton gave the Astros the early lead with a solo home run to left leading off the third inning.

With one out in the fourth, Jason Bay hit a rapidly-sinking line drive to left that a diving Carlos Lee couldn't keep in his glove. Oswalt hit Xavier Nady with a pitch.

Adam LaRoche's hard bouncer went off second baseman Kazuo Matsui's glove for a run-scoring single, ending an 0-for-18 slide for LaRoche.

Nady and LaRoche moved up on Jose Bautista's bouncer to Matsui and both scored on a single through the left side by Chavez.

The Pirates added a run in the fifth, thanks in part to a new leadoff hitter -- Jack Wilson.

He opened the fifth with a single to center. With Freddy Sanchez at the plate, Wilson broke way too early for second base and appeared hopelessly trapped in a rundown.

However, he got tangled with first baseman Lance Berkman, who was called for obstruction (yes, they have that call in baseball, too). Wilson was awarded second base, from where he scored on Nate McLouth's single to left.

Lee singled in Houston's second run in the sixth, but the Pirates balanced that with a run in the eighth.

LaRoche walked, moved up on Bautista's sacrifice bunt, eased to third on a wild pitch and scored on Chavez's sacrifice fly to center. Chavez started at catcher for the sixth time in seven games, more evidence that when Ryan Doumit returns Ronny Paulino will be sent to Class AAA Indianapolis.

NOTES -- Doumit, on the disabled list with a fractured left thumb, was scheduled to catch five innings for Class AA Altoona last night and is scheduled to catch seven innings for Altoona tonight. If all goes well, he'll rejoin the Pirates tomorrow. ... Arizona's probable starters for its four-game series against the Pirates that begins tomorrow night are right-handers Brandon Webb and Dan Haren and left-handers Doug Davis and Randy Johnson.


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