Misfortunes magnified when he's on the mound
By JEROME SOLOMON
The Houston Chronicle
July 16, 2011
Jeff Karstens(notes) #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 15, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Maybe the Astros were thinking: "Bring on Jeff Karstens." The turnaround has to start somewhere, right? Or does it?
The All-Star break brought a new order to the lineup and what Brad Mills hoped would be a renewed spirit to the start of the unofficial second half of the season.
Unfortunately, it didn't bring about new results.
As has been the case throughout a dreadful 2011 season, the Astros, the bad boys of this sad summer, continued their losing ways, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on Friday night.
After it was over, Karstens had to wipe globs of shaving cream out of his ears after teammates splattered a generous chunk of it on him during a postgame television interview.
One of them joked, "If you don't like it, don't pitch so well." He should have told Karstens that if he didn't like it, he shouldn't take the mound against the Astros.
As was the case the first two times he faced them this season, Karstens made it look easy, needing only 83 pitches (64 strikes) to throw a five-hit complete game for his third win over the Astros in the last month.
In three starts against the Astros since June 14, he has given up only one run in 22 2⁄3 innings.
Making it look easy
It took only 34 pitches for the 28-year-old righthander from Texas Tech to get through the first four innings Friday, and he faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings. Karstens barely broke a sweat.
"They swung at a lot of early pitches, so that kind of helped me out a lot," he said. "If they would have been a little more patient and took some more pitches, I probably wouldn't have lasted that long.
"When you come out and throw strikes, they have to be aggressive; they can't really fall behind, and that kind of played to my advantage."
And the Pirates took advantage all right. They scored a run in the first inning and pretty much coasted from there.
"It was pretty simple, as all we had to do was score one run the way he was pitching," said Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who brought home two runs with a triple in the third. "We got an easy win, pretty much. Well, he made it look easy, anyway."
Easy like a Friday evening at Minute Maid Park. Easy like everybody is making it look against the Astros these days, as their woes continue.
Bucs the team to beat
The Astros, who are 1-10 in July, have lost five games in a row and 15 of their past 17. The team is on pace to shatter its all-time worst record.
The Astros also slipped to 2-8 against the first-place Pirates.
Yeah, the first-place Pirates. This is the first time Pittsburgh has been in first place this late in the season since 1997.
The Pirates and Astros (30-63) each score just under four runs per game, but Pittsburgh (48-43) is fifth in the National League with a 3.46 ERA, compared to the Astros' league-worst pitching staff and its 4.68 ERA.
Brett Myers, who did strikeout a season-high 11 batters Friday night, dropped to 3-10 with his fourth straight loss. He threw 111 pitches, 42 of them balls.
Since he allowed only three runs in his six innings of work, it went down as a quality start.
Stuff of legends
What Karstens did was better quality. Much better.
Karstens, a San Diego native who attended junior college for two years and spent only one year at Texas Tech before being taken in the 19th round by the New York Yankees in 2003, has been hot of late.
He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 12 of his last 13 starts and only three in the other.
Karstens already has eight wins, which is twice as many as the former Yankee has put up in any other season.
They say he doesn't have spectacular stuff. Tell the Astros that.
Perhaps he doesn't scare hitters with a high-90s fastball, but he throws strikes and hits his spots.
"He's just been on an absolute roll," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's just in a real good place right now, and everybody's feeding off of him."
And like the rest of baseball, Karstens is feeding off the Astros.