Karstens lifts Pirates to win over Astros

| Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jeff Karstens said the first time he ever got chills at PNC Park was Monday, when closer and newly appointed All-Star Joel Hanrahan came into the game and the sellout crowd rose to its feet.

The second time was Tuesday night. It wasn't a sellout — attendance was 18,151 — but the ovation when Karstens walked to the dugout in the eighth inning was for him.

The right-hander extended his career-high winning streak to four games in a 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros, giving the Pirates their 17th series win of the year and putting them in second place in the National League Central.

"I can't say enough about what the city's done," said Karstens, who said his standing ovation was a first. "They've been waiting a long time for us to play this well, and we just want to keep it going and keep these fans happy."

The Pirates are 45-41 with four games left before the All-Star break. (They didn't win their 45th game last season until Sept. 3.) At the very least, they will be .500 heading into the break. More likely, they will enter it with a winning record for the first time since 1992, when they were 49-39.

Karstens gave up one run through seven-plus innings — Clint Barmes hit a solo home run in the fifth — walked none and struck out three.

"I guess it wouldn't be a typical outing if I didn't give up a solo home run, right?" said Karstens, who's given up 17 home runs this year, 16 of them solo shots.

The right-hander's ERA also dropped from 2.65 to 2.55, which ranks 10th in the majors among qualifying starters. He threw 95 pitches, 72 for strikes.

"I think the thing that was exceptionally impressive was his ball-to-strike ratio," manager Clint Hurdle said of Karstens. "I think he averaged three balls an inning."

Jose Veras retired all three batters he faced in the eighth inning, and Chris Resop pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

The Astros have lost five in a row, and 10 of 11.

Third baseman Brandon Wood, starting in place of Josh Harrison, hit a two-run homer to right-center field — his fourth of the season — on the first pitch he saw in the second inning. He knocked in another run with a two-out single in the fourth.

"To put up five runs for Karstens, he was dealing. I mean, the guy didn't have one pitch up in the zone," Wood said. "He didn't miss a spot. We're proud of him."

The Pirates added two more runs in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly from Michael McKenry and a squeeze play — with Lyle Overbay racing home on Karstens' bunt — as the Pirates took a four-run lead into the seventh inning.

Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez (6-5) was 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his previous six starts against the Pirates. The left-hander was also 5-1 in his past nine starts overall with a 1.77 ERA, and since June 24, 2010, his 2.44 ERA in 32 starts was best in the National League and second in the majors behind Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

Rodriguez allowed five earned runs and eight hits in six innings.

The Pirates have won 10 of their last 14 games, including a 5-3 win over the Astros on Monday.

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