07/06/09 11:55 PM ET
Hampton tops Bucs for 10th straight time
Astros starter tosses seven frames of one-run ball
By Jason Grodsky / MLB.com
Making his fourth start against the Bucs this season, Hampton once again shut them down, leading the Astros to a 4-1 win Pittsburgh on Monday night. The win got Houston within a game of .500 with its fourth victory in the past five home games on Monday night.
Four runs of support were more than enough for the veteran left-hander, who allowed one run on three hits and struck out three over seven innings, improving to 4-0 against Pittsburgh this season. He has won 10 straight starts against them dating back to 1999.
"I can't put a finger on it, but I tend to make good pitches [against them]," Hampton said. And the guys are playing great defense and scoring runs, so it's a team effort and not just me. I don't really talk much about it. I just hope it continues."
Hampton (5-5) struggled with his command early, falling behind six of the first eight hitters he faced, while piling up 38 pitches through the first two innings. But Hampton, who won a Gold Glove Award while with the Braves in 2003 -- flashed his leather to help him out of an early jam.
After walking the first two batters of the game, Hampton snagged a Delwyn Young liner that was ticketed for center field. He made the play while falling backward but was still able to recover and double-up the runner at first base.
"It was huge," Hampton said. "That's going to be a hit and a run and I'm looking at first and third and no outs and a run in, so it was a big play. I was fortunate to make the play. Lance [Berkman] asked me if I needed to change my pants. I said, 'No,' but he was like, 'Well I do.' It got there in a hurry."
Hampton would induce a ground ball to second from Garrett Jones to end the inning, and he settled down over the next five innings, retiring eight straight hitters starting with the last batter in the second.
"[Mike] made pitches when he had to, and that was the big key," manager Cecil Cooper said.
The Pirates would score their lone run off Hampton in the seventh inning. Jones led the inning off with a double and scored on a two-out single to right field by Robinzon Diaz to make it 4-1. Catcher Humberto Quintero would nail Diaz attempting to advance on the throw home by Hunter Pence, ending the inning and Hampton's night.
In his four outings against the Pirates this year, Hampton has allowed just three runs over 27 innings and his career record is now 14-3 when facing the Bucs.
"Throughout his career, he's been a very good pitcher," Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson said. "We're a very aggressive team. We like to attack the ball early in the count, and he finds a way to take advantage of that with a lot of offspeed to keep us off-balance. He's pitching very well against us, and we haven't been able to turn the page."
Shortstop Miguel Tejada and third baseman Geoff Blum backed their starter's performance, as the left side of the infield drove in all four Houston runs.
Blum got the Astros on the board in the first with a two-out, two-run triple. With Tejada at second and Berkman at first, Blum lined one to right field. Jones leaped to make a play, but he couldn't make the catch. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, then caromed off him into the right-field corner, scoring Tejada and Berkman for a 2-0 Astros lead. Cooper thought that the ball had cleared the fence, but the umpires upheld the call on the field after reviewing it using instant replay.
Tejada tacked on insurance in the fifth. Following a Hampton walk and a Michael Bourn bunt single, the All-Star shortstop laced a double down the left-field line, bringing home the Astros' pitcher and speedy outfielder to give Houston a 4-0 lead.
"We got two big hits tonight, the one from Tejada and the one from Blumy," Cooper said. "[Tejada] has been really consistent all year. I don't think he has gone more than a couple ballgames without getting big hits for us, and tonight he did it again."
LaTroy Hawkins threw a scoreless eighth inning and closer Jose Valverde worked the ninth, striking out the final three batters to pick up his seventh save of the season.
The Astros are now 2-6 in games in which they've had a chance to get within one game of .500. The closest Houston has come to reaching .500 since the first week of the season was last week, when the team improved to 38-39 before being shut out in consecutive games in San Francisco on Friday and Saturday.
"Anytime you get good pitching, you have a chance to win a game," Cooper said. "[The pitchers] have done a really good job of keeping the games close, and if you throw out those two games in San Francisco, our ERA is probably in the high 1's or low 2's. They've done a great job, and that's been the biggest difference in us getting a little closer to the top."
Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.