Sunday afternoon's contest between the Pirates and the Astros got off to an inauspicious start for Houston fans, as starting pitcher Felipe Paulino was forced to leave the game in the second inning after straining his right groin. In a season that has seen Astro starters fail to pitch deep into games with too great a frequency, today it didn't matter. Russ Ortiz was able to help bridge the gap between the Paulino injury and the late inning relievers, while the bottom of the batting order went 8/16 en route to a 6-4 series clinching victory.
The real drama came in the seventh inning, as Tim Byrdak entered the game in relief of Ortiz and allowed two runs without recording an out. Eventual winner Jeff Fulchino induced a ground ball double play to escape further damage. In the bottom of the inning, pinch hitter Matt Kata scored on a Miguel Tejada infield single. The suddenly scorching Humberto Quintero plated two insurance runs in the eighth, and LaTroy Hawkins sealed the Pirates fate.
The Cubs come in on Tuesday for yet another series against Wrigleyville Nine. More than that though, there is cause for excitement in Astros camp. The team has won seven out of ten games, and the once slumping Lance Berkman is heating up right as the bullpen is getting stronger and healthier. Russ Ortiz keyed today's win, and Mike Hampton has been outstanding in his last two appearances. We're getting as much as we can probably ask for from these two. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the front office and scouting department takes center stage as the MLB draft takes place. Bobby Heck, Ed Wade and co. seek to build on a strong 2008 draft.