Oswalt latest ace on Pirates' hit list
Houston's Ivan Rodriguez falls onto Jack Wilson after Wilson dove to second base to record the force of Rodriguez in the eighth inning as the Astros tried to rally last night in Houston.
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HOUSTON -- Among the many peculiar traits of these Pirates' feast-or-famine offense is this: One by one, they are picking off the National League's finest pitchers.
Sure, as that crushed water cooler can attest.
Now, add Houston ace Roy Oswalt to the list, as the Pirates chased him with six runs over the same number of innings in a 6-4 edging of the Astros last night at Minute Maid Park. They sprayed nine hits off him, all but one in back-to-back three-run innings in the second and third.
As outfielder Nyjer Morgan put it, in his inimitable style, "We're wearing those aces out, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Seems crazy," third baseman Andy LaRoche said.
The list easily could be extended, too: The Pirates have beaten three other pitchers currently ranked among the league's top 10 in ERA: Wandy Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto and Jair Jurrjens.
• Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 2:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (1-6, 5.64) vs. RHP Felipe Paulino (1-4, 6.21).
• Key matchup: Houston slugger Lance Berkman is just 4 for 19 against Snell, but Snell has walked him 12 times.
• Of note: No one pivots like Freddy Sanchez. Since he became the Pirates' everyday second baseman to open 2007, his 264 double-play assists are most in the National League.
"Honestly, I'm not sure why," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "It's probably that everyone digs a little deeper, makes sure they get their pitch and, as a group, we try to get something going early."
That is the precise pattern manager John Russell identified, against Oswalt and all of the above.
"You have to get runs early off guys like that, and we've done it all year," Russell said. "Some of the higher-ERA guys seem to give us trouble, but it seems like we really bear down against the best. And that's not just the hitting. We've pitched and played defense really well when we've faced those guys. Maybe it's because we know there's not a lot of margin for error."
The Pirates did, in fact, pitch well in this one, Paul Maholm holding the Astros to four runs over seven inning, John Grabow and Matt Capps putting up a zero each. There also was sound defense, notably an acrobatic play by Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson that quelled a Houston rally in the eighth.
But none of it would have mattered if Oswalt had done what he usually does: He entered 13-6 against the Pirates, with a 2.40 ERA that is second-lowest of any pitcher with 150-plus innings against the franchise, trailing only Mario Soto's 2.11.
Houston pounced on Maholm for Hunter Pence's two-run home run in the first, but the Pirates stormed back for a 6-2 lead with three-run outbursts in the second and third. Those were highlighted by Andrew McCutchen's two-out, two-run single, and RBI doubles by Brandon Moss and Wilson.
"We showed good patience, went after our pitches and drove them," Russell said.
To hear Oswalt tell it, the Pirates should have done exactly that.
"It's probably the most out of place I've felt ever on the mound, in the second and third inning," Oswalt said. "I couldn't throw the ball anywhere I wanted to, I was scared to throw a breaking ball and I couldn't throw a fastball where I wanted to. I just felt terrible on the mound."
Oswalt has not been wholly himself this season, 2-3 with a 4.66 ERA.
The Astros chipped away to cut the Pirates' lead to 6-4 through five, and they mounted that rally against Grabow in the eighth, putting two aboard with one out before Jeff Keppinger and Edwin Maysonet each bounced into a forceout.
The second of those was the defensive gem: Sanchez dived up the middle to keep Maysonet's ball in the infield, then flipped to Wilson at second. He failed to barehand it initially, then picked it up just in time.
"Great play," Grabow called it.
"That's how those two work together," Russell said.
One negative there: Wilson fell hard on his right shoulder when Ivan Rodriguez barreled into him and, although he finished the game, he will be reevaluated this morning to see if he can play in the series finale.
Capps put down Houston in the ninth for his 13th save, seventh in a row.
Anyone remember when the Pirates' back-end bullpen duo was struggling?
Grabow has been scored upon once in his past 10 appearances, and Capps has not allowed a run in his past seven.
"Guys like that, you don't worry about," Russell said. "Same with Paul."
Maholm persevered through one or more baserunners in five of his seven innings, then finished by retiring seven of eight. That raised his record to 4-2 and ended a personal winless streak of seven starts, his previous victory coming April 22.
"Finally," Maholm said. "It was tough at times, but we got through it."
First Published June 7, 2009 12:00 am