Humberto Quintero’s three-run double in the fourth inning ended Houston’s season-long scoreless streak in Pittsburgh and Brandon Backe limited the Pirates to a run over six innings, leading the Astros to an 11-1 victory Monday night.
“That’s more like it,” said manager Phil Garner, whose team was held to five runs while being swept in a three-game weekend series in St. Louis.
The Astros were streaking going into the All-Star break with 29 victories in 42 games. Backe (8-6) got them back to within a game of .500 with his pitching and hitting, the latest in a string of opposing pitchers to hurt the Pirates not just on the mound but at the plate.
Backe followed Quintero’s three-run double off Dave Williams (7-7) with an RBI triple in the four-run fourth, which came after the Astros had none on and two outs. Backe also doubled the inning before and now has four extra-base hits, six RBIs and a .294 average. Quintero finished with four RBIs after starting the game 1-for-16.
The Pirates fell to a season-low 12 games under .500 with their 22nd loss in 32 games. As the Pirates have dropped five of their last six, opposing pitchers have accounted for eight runs with six RBIs and two runs scored, while the Pirates have scored just nine runs.
“I don’t know if it’s the low point of the season or not,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ve played some bad games and rebounded and I suspect we will again. I’m not going to blow this out of perspective.”
It would help if they could get the opposing starting pitcher out—not just out of game early, but out at the plate. Cubs starting pitchers were 5-for-12 with five RBIs as the Pirates lost three of four in Wrigley Field over the weekend.
“It was the same thing in Chicago, the bottom of the order hurt us,” McClendon said. “Dave Williams is cruising along and the next thing you know they’ve got five hits and four runs.”
The Astros were shut down for three innings by Williams to run their scoreless streak in PNC Park this season to 21 innings. But Jason Lane, Adam Everett and Chris Burke singled in succession ahead of Quintero’s double that fell in front of left fielder Jason Bay, ending the catcher’s 0-for-13 streak.
“I’ve been trying to hit the ball to right field, now I’ve got to work on that,” the right handed-hitting Quintero said. “But he threw me a changeup and it went into left field.”
Quintero was activated off the 15-day disabled list Saturday after being out following an appendectomy. He hadn’t had an extra base hit since having two homers and three doubles with the Padres last season.
Lane and Lance Berkman also had three-hit games, with Berkman driving in two runs, as the Astros had 17 hits, one short of their season high.
The Pirates were held to a run after loading the bases with none out in the first, only to be checked by Backe on two hits over the next five innings. He withstood six walks to win for just the second time in seven starts, striking out six and allowing three hits.
“I was satisfied even though I walked some guys—it was an OK outing,” Backe said. “I’ve got some things to work on but I can also be happy about some things I did tonight.”
It probably helped that two key hitters in the middle of the Pirates’ order are slumping badly. NL All-Star Bay went 0-for-2 and is in a 2-for-33 slide and first baseman Daryle Ward went an 11th straight game without an RBI. Ward has a team-high 52 RBIs, but hasn’t had an RBI since July 3 or a home run since June 7, a span of 34 games.
Williams, pitching for the first time since beating the Mets 11-4 on July 9, lasted five-plus innings, allowing 10 hits and five runs—four earned.
The Astros were shut out 2-0 in successive games in Pittsburgh April 25 and 27 in what became a two-game series due to a rainout. … Faces in the crowd: Arnold Palmer and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh native who also watched the Pirates-Cubs game Friday in Wrigley Field. Cuban said then he’d be interested in buying the Pirates if the team ever came on the market and doing so would keep them in Pittsburgh. Cuban declined Monday to talk about those remarks. … Despite the weekend sweep by St. Louis, the Astros have won eight of 12. … The Astros are 2-4 against Pittsburgh. … Ward is hitless in 22 at-bats.