HOUSTON - JUNE 16: Pitcher Jordan Lyles #41 of the Houston Astros throws against the PIttsburgh Pirates in the first innin> at Minute Maid Park on June 16, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Charles Caleb Colton once said "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Unfortunately, the Astros seemed to imitate the wrong Pirates' team this week. If only, it could have been the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates. Instead they seem to have channeled the 18 straight losing season Pirates. 5 years ago, if I heard there was a 20 year old pitcher starting in the Astros-Pirates game, I would probably say "Avast matey! The Pirates ship must be sinking fast, they are now using a 20 year old landlubber" and no one would laugh.
Now, the roles have been reversed. The Astros sent 20 year old Jordan Lyles to the plank, I mean mound. The Pirates countered with James McDonald who has 4.50 career E.R.A. versus the Astros. In addition to that, the Pirates were also going for the sweep. Today would definitely be a bad day for a lifelong Astros fan to wake up from a 5 year coma. The Astros also entered this series and the previous ones before leaving a lot of men on base. They also entered the series with a new pitching coach in Doug Brocail after firing Brad Arnsberg on Tuesday.
Jordan Lyles' perfect game was broken up on the first pitch when Jose Tabata singled. After striking out Xavier Paul, Lyles proceeded to walk Andrew McCutchen. He struck out Neil Walker to record the 2nd out. Garret Jones hit a three-run homer to give the Pirates a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead. Lyles's 30th pitch had Josh Harrison ground out to end the inning and stop the bleeding.
Jeff Keppinger singled in the 1st with 1 out. Hunter Pence's single moved Keppinger to 2nd base and extended his hitting streak to 2 games. After Carlos Lee flied out, Brett "the Walrus" Wallace walked to load the bases with 2 outs. Matt Downs flied out to end the inning, and the Astros left 3 men on base. McDonald threw 26 pitches in the 1st inning.
Lyles seemed to get comfortable in the 2nd inning. He threw a perfect inning while 12 pitches including striking out James McDonald for the 3rd out and his 3rd strikeout of the game. James McDonald also got comfortable and threw 10 pitches in the 2nd which retired the side. Lyles's perfect groove continued in the 3rd with 6 pitch inning. Hunter Pence singled with two outs to end the 1 5/6 innings of pitcher serendipity. Carlos Lee doubled, but Pence was thrown out at home. Lyles struck out 2 in a perfect 4th in which he threw 14 pitches.
Brett Wallace walked to lead off the 4th. Matt Down's double moved Wallace to 3rd with no outs. Angel Sanchez decided he did not want to see any runners left on base and hit a ground out which scored Wallace and advanced Downs to 3rd. Then, Carlos Corporan hit a sac fly to score Downs and cut the Pirates lead to 3-2. Jordan Lyles struck out to end the inning.
Lyles must have learned from his at bat as he threw 19 pitches in the 5th and struck out all 3 batters he faced. Michael Bourn walked to lead off the 5th. Keppinger moved Bourn to second after grounding out. Pence's double scored Bourn to tie the game at 3 apiece. Carlos Lee struck out for the second out, and Brett Wallace was intentionally walked. The intentional walk worked as Matt Downs grounded out to end the inning. Lyles seemed to get in trouble in the 6th with two outs. Andrew McCutchen hit a single and was moved to 2nd after Neil Walker's single. He was subsequently replaced by Sergio Escalona. Lyles pitched 5 and 2/3rds innings and struck out 8 on 99 pitches while walking one and allowing 4 hits.
Garrett Jones reached on a Michael Bourn error, but McCutchen scored while Walker went to 3rd. The Pirates had seized the lead at 4-3. Walker scored on Josh Harrison's double. The inning ended on that double when Garrett Jones was thrown out at home. Angel Sanchez doubled to lead off the 6th. After Corporan's and pinch hitter Jason Michael's pop outs, the Pirates made a double switch by putting Brandon Wood in the game at 3rd base and batting 9th while pitching Tony Watson. Bourn lined out to end the inning. Wilton Lopez replaced Escalona in the 7th and pitched a perfect inning striking out 1. Unfortunately the Pirates' Watson pitched a perfect 7th. Lopez pitched the 8th and go an early out, then gave up a single to Xavier Paul then hit Andrew McCutchen to move Paul in scoring position. Walker grounded into a double play to end the inning. Watson returned for the 8th, and again was not accompanied by Sherlock Holmes. Angel Sanchez walked with two outs in the 8th. Carlos Corporan flied out to end the inning. Fernando Abad came in the 9th and gave a one out single to Matt Diaz. Diaz stole 2nd base with two out and reached 3rd on a throwing error. Ronny Cedeno ended the inning by flying out to Pence. Jason Bourgeois opened the 9th inning with a single after pinch hitting for Abad. He stole 2nd with Bourn batting, and advanced to 3rd on Michael Bourn's groundout. Keppinger's single cut the Pirates lead to 1 as Bourgeois scored. Pence grounded out to record the 2nd out and advanced Keppinger to 2nd. Carlos Lee grounded out to end the comeback and game. Jose Veras got the Pirates' 3rd save of the series. Lyles got the loss, but he looked exceptional in most of the innings he pitched excluding the 1st and 6th.
Brocail seems to be giving his starters around 100 pitches before pulling them. He also does not keep in relievers for 2 inning stretches like Arnsberg until today with Lopez pitching the 7th and 8th. The Astros are now 0-3 since making the change. When Bob Dylan recorded "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in 1963, I wonder if he was talking about the Astros-Pirates rivalry. Hopefully, the Pirates' recent success will be a minor albatross in this once lop sided rivalry.