Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn’t find a way to win at Minute Maid Park. This year, they’ve yet to lose there.
The Pirates try to complete their second road series sweep and extend a surprising season-long dominance over the Houston Astros as the teams conclude their three-game set on Sunday.
The Pirates (57-71) have overtaken the Astros (57-73) for fifth in the NL Central after Saturday’s 4-1 victory. Matt Morris allowed one run in six innings as Pittsburgh won its fourth straight game overall and improved to 5-0 at Minute Maid Park, where it had gone 11-44 since its opening in 2000.
Pittsburgh’s bullpen also continued to excel in this series as John Grabow, Franquelis Osoria and Matt Capps combined for three scoreless innings Saturday, with Capps notching his 13th save in 15 chances.
The trio also logged four innings Friday, contributing to eight shutout frames by Pittsburgh’s bullpen in an 8-3, 15-inning victory.
“I was just going on adrenaline,” said Capps, who threw two innings Friday. “There wasn’t a whole lot in the tank.”
Tony Armas (2-4, 7.08 ERA) will try to give the Pirates their 10th win in a single season against the Astros for the first time since 1976. After winning his first two starts since rejoining the rotation in August, Armas has been tagged for 12 runs and 14 hits in just seven innings while struggling in his last two.
Armas took the loss Tuesday at Colorado, where he yielded seven runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-2 defeat. It marked the sixth time in 11 starts he has failed to last at least five innings, and Armas has an 8.04 ERA in 11 overall starts.
The Pirates, who opened the season with a three-game sweep at Houston, have won eight of their last nine on the road and 12 of the last 17 overall. They have not gone undefeated at Houston since taking a three-game series in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Houston, which has lost three straight and six of its last seven, has scored more than three runs just twice in its last 11 games. The Astros had gone 75-37 against the Pirates since 2000 entering this season, but is 2-9 against them in 2007.
Wandy Rodriguez (7-12, 4.58) will try to avoid furthering a career high in losses. The left-hander had lost 10 games in each of his first two seasons and has struggled to a 1-5 mark with a 6.25 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break.
Rodriguez, who’s lost consecutive outings, struggled against Washington on Tuesday, when he was reached for seven runs in 5 1-3 innings of an 11-6 loss. It was a rare lapse at home for the left-hander, who has an 2.28 ERA in 13 starts there.
“He struggled a little bit mechanically,” catcher Brad Ausmus told the Astros’ official Web site. “He was having trouble getting his fastball down at one point. His elbow was dropping and the ball kept riding up and away of a right-handed hitter, out of the strike zone. That was a little bit of an issue.”
Rodriguez also has two of Houston’s nine losses to Pittsburgh this year, giving up nine runs in 12 innings over two starts.
The Pirates are the only team to record a sweep at Minute Maid Park this season.