Pedro Alvarez leads the Pirates with 8 home runs. (Photo credit: David Hague)
It’s an overall negative that the Pirates could only score eight runs in three games against the Houston Astros, baseball’s worst run prevention team. It’s an overall negative that that they could only crack open four total hits on average starting pitcher Lucas Harrell, and needed 15 hitters Sunday to hit the ball out of the infield.
But when a Pirates batter finally did hit it out of infield… boom. Pedro Alvarez roped Harrell’s first-pitch fastball to the opposite field, hooking just inside the left-field foul pole 325 feet from the plate for a home run. Alvarez’s 8th home run got Pittsburgh (26-18) its first hit in the 5th inning and broke the scoreless tie in the Pirates’ 1-0 win.
Alvarez’s just-barely home run was all the run support needed for Jeff Locke, who continued to defy the regression monsters with seven shutout innings and only three hits allowed for his fourth victory. Locke worked from behind often, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 12 of his 25 hitters. Aided by home plate umpire Todd Tichenor’s low strike zone, Locke notched four strikeouts and only two walks, allowing only one Astros baserunner to reach scoring position. The left-hander’s season ERA drops to 2.73 after his 94-pitch scoreless outing.
The Pirates’ only real chance for insurance came in the 6th inning. Travis Snider hit a one-out double to the North Shore Notch, then one batter later, Gaby Sanchez singled to center field. Snider was waved home with two outs, but center fielder Brandon Barnes’ throw beat him and catcher Carlos Corporan held strong as Snider called Mr. Plow. Lucas Harrell was strong on the mound for Houston (12-32), pitching seven innings and allowing just five baserunners.
Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli each pitched a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the Pirates’ series victory.