Jeff Karstens turned in the season's best pitching performance last night, shutting out the Astros 4-0 on just 83 pitches. He allowed only five singles and no walks and threw only 19 balls the whole game.
This game felt over in the third inning when Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run triple to make the score 3-0. When was the last time the Pirates had a pitcher who could give you that feeling so early on? Karstens (8-4, 2.34) now ranks third in the NL in ERA behind only Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87) and Cole Hamels (11-4, 2.32). While sabermetric sites claim Karstens' ERA is "lucky", inducing weak contact is more than just luck. This game provides the perfect illustration. Astros starter Brett Myers struck out 11 but was gone after six innings, three runs and 111 pitchers. Meanwhile, Karstens struck out just two but seemed like he could have pitched 12 innigns easily.
McCutchen drove in his 55th and 56th runs and also reached base on a walk. Alex Presley scored twice, stole his third base, and now has 11 runs scored in 14 games. Chase d'Arnaud, 2-for-5 with a run scored, was the only other player to reach base twice.
Before the Pirates game was over, the Reds' Brandon Phillips hit a walkoff two-run homer to beat the Cardinals, 6-5. This put the Pirates fractions of a percentage point ahead of St. Louis, while they remain three games ahead of Cincinnati. If you think first place in July isn't significant, Tony La Russa used four players from his bench and all seven of his relief pitchers in the losing effort. When the Brewers went down 4-0 to the Rockies an hour later - despite the return of Ryan Braun to the lineup - the Pirates sat on top of the division for the first time this year.The only bad news of the night occurred in Bradenton, where Jose Tabata was scratched from his rehab assignment due to tightness in the same quadricep muscle that landed him on the disabled list one month ago. The Pirates downplayed the significance of the setback but already have said he won't play tonight either, making me think it could be a bigger deal than they're letting on.