Norris strikes out 14, Pence helps Astros in win

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HOUSTON (AP)—Bud Norris(notes) had an overpowering finish after a weak start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Norris had a career-high 14 strikeouts and Hunter Pence(notes) homered and drove in the tiebreaking run, leading the Astros to a 3-2 victory over the Pirates on Saturday night.

Norris fell behind 2-0 after only two batters but manager Brad Mills(notes) wasn’t too worried.

“He gave up four runs in the first the last time he faced these guys so I thought two runs, we’re good,” Mills said. “Well, the first thing that went through my mind was I hope he can settle down and he did.”

Norris (5-7) was effective with his 90-plus (mph) fastball and off-speed pitches.

“I threw the ball well both sides of the plate with my fastball,” Norris said. “I got in on the hands of left-handed hitters and climbed the ladder when I needed it. If you can get in there and on their hands and bury that slider down on the back foot, that’s tough. I was lucky to locate like I did.”

Pence homered in the fourth and had an RBI double in the seventh inning, and the Astros beat the Pirates at Minute Maid Park for the eighth straight time this season.

“It was impressive to be able to play behind him,” Pence said. “He kept his composure after the first few batters. He was making innings pretty quick. He’s got that stuff and when he gets his command, it’s going to work like it did tonight. It was pretty incredible.”

Norris’ 14 strikeouts matched Detroit’s Max Scherzer(notes) (May 30 vs. Oakland) and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg(notes) (June 8 against Pittsburgh) for second most strikeouts this season. Toronto’s Brandon Morrow(notes) struck out 17 on Aug. 8 against Tampa Bay.

The Pirates lost their sixth straight overall and ninth in a row on the road.

Norris pitched seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs. He issued one intentional walk. He also got two hits for the first time in his career.

Paul Maholm(notes) (7-11) pitched a three-hit shutout against Houston on July 18 but he got the loss this time. He went 6 2-3 innings and gave up nine hits, three runs and struck out four.

“Paul did a really good job. He deserved better,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “It’s getting to be old. Our pitchers are pitching well, but we can’t get any runs for them. We got two runs early, and I thought that would help them relax a little bit, but we ended up striking out 17 times.”

The Pirates took a quick 2-0 lead and loaded the bases in the second, but Morris then retired 12 straight until he hit Ryan Doumit(notes) with a pitch in the sixth.

Andrew McCutchen(notes) tripled to deep center field in the first, a play that sent centerfielder Michael Bourn(notes) into a belly flop. Garrett Jones(notes) followed with hit his 17th homer into the right field stands.

Norris recovered to strike out the next three batters to end the first and he wriggled out of a bases loaded jam in the second.

“I knew I had to get back in the groove and obviously it worked well,” Norris said. “It’s fun. You try so hard to have nights like this but I know I have to go out next time and try to get better.”

Jeff Clement(notes) and Argenis Diaz(notes) each singled to start the second. After the runners were sacrificed by Maholm, McCutchen struck out and Jones was intentionally walked to load the bases. Jose Tabata(notes) lined out to end the threat.

Angel Sanchez(notes) tied the game with a single in the seventh before Pence slammed his second double of the game to put Houston ahead for good.

Brandon Lyon(notes) pitched a scoreless ninth for his fourth save in five chances. Maholm was displeased with only three pitches.

“I made three bad pitches, and it cost us three runs,” he said. “The Pence home run, and there was a changeup I threw down the middle. You get two outs with a guy on, and I wasn’t able to make the pitch to get out of the inning.

“You would have wished that we would have gotten a bigger lead, but I had a lead, and I couldn’t make the pitch,” he added.

NOTES: Houston is 9-2 against the Pirates this season. … Astros closer Matt Lindstrom(notes) is day to day after tests revealed a muscular problem in his back but no structural damage. … Carlos Lee(notes) made the fifth start of his career at first base. … Nelson Figueroa(notes) was scheduled make his first start as an Astro Saturday but he’s been pushed back to Tuesday because of migraine-like symptoms. … The last Astros pitcher with as many strikeouts in a game as Norris was Wade Miller with 14 on May 30, 2003, at Chicago.

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