Hampton punches out Pirates again
Astros pitcher Mike Hampton throws to Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson during the sixth inning of last night's game. Hampton claimed his 10th consecutive win against the Pirates.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson leaps to catch a ball hit by Houston Astros third baseman Geoff Blum during the fifth inning of last night's game.
Pirates pitcher Virgil Vasquez throws a pitch against the Astros during the first inning of last night's game.
Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones leaps as he tries to catch a two-run triple hit by Astros third baseman Geoff Blum during the first inning of last night's game. Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada and first baseman Lance Berkman scored on Blum's triple.
Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones falls after leaping at the wall as he tries to catch a two-run triple hit by Astros third baseman Geoff Blum during the first inning last night.
Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada hits a two-run double during the fifth inning of last night's game. Pitcher Mike Hampton and outfielder Michael Bourn scored on the hit.
Astros third baseman Geoff Blum fields a ground ball hit by Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young during the fourth inning of last night's game. Young was out at first base on the play.
Astros pitcher Mike Hampton throws against the Pirates during the sixth inning of last night's game.
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HOUSTON -- The Pirates still can't figure out Mike Hampton.
They made adjustments and tinkered with a few things, but there was nothing they could do to reverse a trend that started in 2000.
Hampton took the mound against the Pirates last night at Minute Maid Park, a winner the past nine times he had started against the Pirates.
Prior to the game, manager John Russell was asked of the streak and said, "It is just one of those things."
And, after Hampton threw seven innings of three-hit ball to propel the Astros to a 4-1 victory, Russell said: "We made some adjustments, but it is what it is."
• Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (5-4, 4.69) vs. RHP Brian Moehler (5-4, 5.64).
• Key matchup: Maholm vs. the heart of Houston's order. Lance Berkman is 3 for 23 off him, Carlos Lee 6 for 29, a combined .173 average.
• Of note: The Pirates' 46 quality starts rank fourth in Major League Baseball.
The win gave Hampton his 10th consecutive victory against the Pirates, carrying his streak through his play with four teams -- Houston, Atlanta, Colorado and the New York Mets.
He became the first pitcher since Robin Roberts to post at least 10 win in a row against the Pirates; Roberts won 15 consecutive starts against the team from 1951-53.
With this win, Hampton sent the Pirates to new depths this season -- nine games below the .500 mark for the first time as they spiraled to their seventh loss in the past nine games.
"I thought we took a good approach, trying to hit the ball up the middle or go opposite field," said third baseman Andy LaRoche, who went 0 for 4. "They just weren't falling for us.
"We couldn't get anything going the whole time. You just tip your cap to Hampton."
The Pirates likely are tired of tipping their cap to Hampton.
The sinkerball-throwing left-hander improved his record to 5-5 overall, but in games against the Pirates this year, he is 4-0 with an ERA below 0.90. He also moved his record to 14-3 all-time against the club.
Of his success against the Pirates, Hampton refused to take full credit or pinpoint one reason.
"I can't put a finger on it," he said. "I make good pitches and then guys are playing great defense and scoring runs. So, it's a team effort. It's not just me."
Things might have been different this time had the Pirates taken advantage of their best chance, and, it came right out of the gate, in the first inning.
The Pirates wasted a chance to get to Hampton early, but a potential rally was thwarted by a fabulous defensive play he made.
Hampton walked the first two batters -- Andrew McCutchen and Jack Wilson -- to begin the game and looked to be in a bit of a hole. Delwyn Young, who started in left field, then hit a rocket right back at Hampton, who snared it and doubled Wilson off first.
"Luckily, I ended up in a pretty good fielding position," Hampton said.
After Hampton snared the liner in the top of the first, his teammate Geoff Blum pitched in with the offensive pop in the bottom of the inning.
Blum gave Hampton a 2-0 cushion when he hammered a Virgil Vasquez changeup to deep right. Garrett Jones gave chase, leapt into the air and the ball ricocheted off his forearm at the base of the wall. Instead, the ball bounced free and off the top of the wall for a triple, bringing in Miguel Tejada and Lance Berkman.
The play was reviewed by the umpiring crew because after it hit Jones the ball bounced precariously near the yellow line atop the wall (which would have made it a three-run homer), but, after a second look, the initial call stood.
Vasquez held the Astros scoreless from there until the fifth, when he walked the pitcher to lead off the inning.
After Hampton walked, Michael Bourn beat out a bunt single and Tejada's second double of the night brought home both runners to up Houston's advantage to 4-0.
First Published July 7, 2009 12:00 am