James McDonald (10-4, 3.15) vs Lucas Harrell (7-7, 4.07)
AT LONG LAST. If you could get past the bullpen's brutality, you may have felt this coming this week. Even as the losing streak stretched out to 12 games, Houston kept getting close - the streak started with blowouts, but not so the last 5 days. Sooner or later, they had to put it all together. Today, they finally did. Astros win, 9-5, ending their freefall and improving to 35-68 overall.
*Lucas Harrell may be Houston's ace now, and he certainly pitched like it today. The only runs he gave up came on a Garrett Jones moon launch to the upper reaches of right field in the 4th, but he kept Pittsburgh overmatched besides that. Lucas' line: 5.2 IP / 5 H / 2 R / 2 ER / 3 BB / 5 K. He came out after loading the bases with two outs in the 6th, but Fernando Rodriguez came in and did his job today, safely recording the third out. That began a parade of six relievers who mostly pitched well, save for the run that F-Rod gave up in the 7th and the two runs that Chuckie Fick surrendered without logging an out in the 9th. Wright, Cordero, Cedeno, and Lopez all had scoreless fractions of innings.
*Big game today by the Astros offense, even after trading away one of their hottest hitters in Chris Johnson. 9 runs were their most in a game since scoring 9 against KC back on June 18.
*Houston scored at least once in every inning from the 3rd through the 7th. That marked the first game in which they scored in four or more consecutive innings since the second half of the May 28 doubleheader in Colorado.
*Marwin Gonzalez led the offense with 3 H, and 3 RBI on a bases-loaded, two-out double in the 7th. He was 3 for 5 including another double and a run scored.
*Scott Moore, taking over 3B for CJ at least today, also had a pair of RBI singles. He went 2 for 4 with a walk.
*Jordan Schafer capitalized on his first start since Tuesday, launching a 2-run homer in the 4th off of James McDonald. It was Schafer's fourth of the season, and his first since June 23 against Cleveland. He added another RBI on a fielder's choice in the 5th, finishing 1 for 3 with a walk.
*J.D. Martinez opened the Astros' scoring with a sac fly driving in Jose Altuve in the 3rd. J.D. went 1 for 3 with a run scored and a walk.
*Speaking of Altuve, he doubled and walked twice to go 1 for 3 with two runs scored.
*Steve Pearce made his Astros debut as their starting first baseman, doubling in the 5th to go 1 for 4 with a run scored.
Houston was up 5-2 in the 6th, but it looked like Harrell then began to tire. After recording the first two outs, Lucas loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks. Brad Mills then brought in Fernando Rodriguez to face world-beater Andrew McCutchen in a pinch-hitting role. McCutchen has been on fire and may be the best player in the National League this season, so he's the last man you want to see up there with the bases loaded. But Rodriguez got him to pop to second on a 2-1 count, preserving the Astros' lead.
Man of the Match:
Plenty of heroes today, but we'll give it to Lucas Harrell, who finally got some run support and earned his 8th win.
Goat of the Game:
Good feelings all around, but if there must be a goat, I'll pick Chuckie Fick (whose name we must be careful about typing). It never got uncomfortably close, but Fick was handed a 9-3 lead to start the 9th, and gave up three singles and a wild pitch without recording an out to make it 9-5. Given the context of the last five games, it just made the 9th inning a little more interesting than we all would have liked.