PITTSBURGH - JULY 06: Jeff Keppinger #8 of the Houston Astros hits an RBI double against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth inning during the game on July 6, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Entering today's game, the Pirates' Charlie Morton (7-4 3.63 E.R.A) was a leading candidate for comeback player of the year, while the Astros' Bud Norris seems to have had no luck this season accumulating a 3.46 E.R.A. but a 4-6 record. The Astros would need a role reversal to avoid a sweep. In the midst of a 5 game losing streak, Astros' manager Brad Mills had a lengthy pregame meeting with the team before tonight's game. Could this meeting fix the runners left on base problem and bullpen meltdowns?
The answer would seem to be no early on. Hunter Pence broke Morton's no hitter in the 1st with a single which extended his hitting streak to 11. Pence stole second, and Carlos Lee walked, but Jeff Keppinger grounded out to end the inning. The Pirates responded to this threat in the 1st with a 1 out R.B.I. single by Andrew McCutchen that gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead. The scoring would halt until the 6th as both teams left plenty of runners on base.
The Astros, however, fixed the runners left on base problem in the 6th. Michael Bourn reached on a throwing error by Chase d'Arnaud. Angel Sanchez's double tied the game at 1-1. Pence's single gave the Astros a 2-1 lead. Pence scored on Lee's 4th triple of the year which was aided by All Star snub McCutchen's misplay on the ball. Keppinger's double scored Lee to make it 4-1. Then Brett Wallace's groundout moved Keppinger to 3rd. Clint Barmes's single extended the lead to 4 and took Charlie Morton out of the game. The inning ended with Bourn striking out, but Mill's pregame meeting seemed to have some effect. In total it was a 6 hit inning, which scored 5 runs. The Pirates responded again with a Andrew McCutchen R.B.I. to cut the Astros' lead to 3.
The bullpen would finally get its chance to show what it learned from today's meeting. Wilton Lopez replaced Bud Norris in the 8th. Norris pitched 7 innings allowing two runs and striking out 3. Lopez pitched a perfect inning retiring the side. Jason Michael's pinch hit for Lopez and hit a leadoff double. Bourn followed with a double to extend the lead to 5. Then, Pence singled with 1 out to score Bourn. Pence would advance to 3rd base after Lee's single. Keppinger's sac fly scored Pence to make the score 8-2. David Carpenter came in to close out the game. He responded by retiring all three batters he faced. So, the bullpen also responded to the pregame meeting and helped the Astros win their first game of July. Maybe this meeting will provide the 2nd half magic the Astros are known for. With the win, the Astros ended a 5 game losing streak and will take their talents to South Beach to face the Marlins in a 4 game series.