Wandy strikes out 10 to silence Pirates
Lee, Berkman homer in opener of three-game set
HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park's famous train chugging along its tracks above left field was just what Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez wanted to see Tuesday against the Pirates.
After the Astros' hitters had wasted solid starts in their previous three games because of a lack of run support, their bats finally came alive and hit some balls into the seats for Rodriguez in a 6-2 win.
"That was outstanding to see," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He's throwing the ball well, throwing the ball with confidence, which is huge."
In the Astros' three previous games, they combined to score three runs against the Padres at PETCO Park, known as a pitcher's stadium. During that stretch, each Astros starter managed to throw a quality start, but none earned a victory.
All of that changed in Minute Maid, however. By the third inning, the Astros had already put five runs up on Texas native Brad Lincoln, including two home runs, which had the train moving.
"I felt comfortable when I saw a lot of scoring today," Rodriguez said.
The majority of that scoring came from the heart of the order, which has struggled for much of the year.
In the first, Michael Bourn led off with an infield single. He then moved quickly around the bases, stealing second, advancing to third on a flyout and scoring on a groundout. Bourn also helped the Astros again in the third when he singled and scored when Jeff Keppinger drove him home with a double that made it 3-0.
And then there were the homers. Two of the Astros' best hitters, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman who have struggled much of the season, went deep. Lee blasted a homer to left field in the first for his first home run since June 12. Berkman then hit his first blast at home since June 3 to give the Astros a 5-0 lead in the third. "They hit three and four for a reason, because they are good hitters," Mills said. "When those good hitters are good hitters, it kind of brings everybody together a little bit."
Lee said Berkman and he had a conversation about getting on the same page recently.
"We've been together four years and have never been hot at the same time," Lee said. "We plan to have a good one together from now on."
Given ample run support, Rodriguez continued his stretch of dominating performances. He gave up just one run over seven innings and had 10 strikeouts. Rodriguez earned his third consecutive win since the Rangers rocked him for seven runs June 18.
This start was probably his best, too. He didn't allow a hit through the first three innings and only ran into problems in the fourth, when he gave up his only run. With one out and Andrew McCutchen on first, Rodriguez surrendered three consecutive singles to score McCutchen for the Pirates' first run.
Yet, unlike previous starts where a mistake by Rodriguez would turn into a multi-run inning, he maintained his poise. He got Bobby Crosby to pop up to catcher Jason Castro and struck out Lincoln to leave the bases loaded.
Rodriguez said he was aware of where he was in the Pirates' order.
"I tried to throw quality pitches because the next hitter was the pitcher," Rodriguez said. "When I saw it was 3-and-2, I threw a fastball right down the middle and he popped it up."
Rodriguez now has given up just two earned runs in his last 20 innings pitched. He continued the trend of Astros impressive starts with starters posting a 1.13 ERA over their last six games.
"He had a decent fastball tonight," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "It seemed like he was nibbling both sides, but when he was getting into hitter's counts, he got real aggressive."
Just like the Astros finally were with their bats.
Steve Gartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.