Tom Gorzelanny pitched five strong innings and Jose Bautista drove in three runs on three hits as the Pirates claimed their first sweep at Minute Maid Park and first sweep of a three-game series in Houston since May 14-16, 1991, at the Astrodome.
You remember those Pirates? Guys like Doug Drabek, John Smiley, Stan Belinda, Bob Walk, Andy Van Slyke, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla?
That team made the playoffs, as did the '92 Pirates. No Pirates team has been back to the postseason since, and while it would be grossly premature to put the current Pirates club in the contender category, what they did against a good Houston team should not be casually dismissed either.
"Pittsburgh is a vastly improved team from last year," Houston first baseman Lance Berkman said. "If they continue to pitch and hit like they did against us, they're going to be a force in the division."
The Pirates were a force against the Astros and clearly didn't look anything like last year's team, which lost seven of its first eight and 24 of 33 to start the season.
"People don't really have faith in us I think," Gorzelanny said. "People see us as a bad ballclub, but I think we're going to turn a lot of heads this year. I think we're a good team. We have a great bullpen, we have a good rotation and I think it's going to show a lot of people how good we can be."
For the third night in a row, the 3-0 Pirates, who are tied with the New York Mets for the best record in the National League, received outstanding starting pitching, as Gorzelanny limited the Astros to two earned runs in five innings. Pirates starters have worked 18 innings and have an ERA of 3.00. The team ERA is 2.25.
The bullpen, with Shaw Chacon, Matt Capps and Salomon Torres combining to allow one run in four innings in the finale, capped an impressive series by the Pirates relievers (10 innings, one run).
For the third straight game the Pirates demonstrated an ability to rise to challenges. Gorzelanny loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth but held the Astros to only one run.
"I think you need to give an awful lot of credit to our starting pitcher and the job that we did in the fourth inning when his back was against the wall with the bases loaded with nobody out," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "[He] nearly got out of it completely unscathed, but to get out of it with just the one run and give himself and his teammates a chance to win, that's the difference in the game right there.
"We were in that position a number of times a year ago, especially in the early part of the season, and it didn't work out that way. [Tonight], we picked one another up. When you start to become a good club you pick one another up."
Trailing 3-1 entering the fifth, the Pirates used three hits and three Houston errors to put four runs on the board against Astros starter Woody Williams.
Jason Bay got things started with an infield hit, and a one-out double from Ronny Paulino trimmed the Houston lead to 3-2, and when Houston center fielder Chris Burke dropped Xavier Nady's fly ball, Paulino went to third and Nady wound up on second. Bautista followed with a single to center to plate Paulino and Nady. A two-out walk to Gorzelanny and a pair of errors by Astros shortstop Adam Everett on a Chris Duffy grounder enabled Bautista to score.
"When I got the RBI double I was just trying to get [the runner] over. I just happened to get a breaking ball over the plate and I got good wood on it," Bautista said.
Gorzelanny surrendered a run in the third on a sacrifice fly by Berkman and gave up an unearned run in the fourth when Jason Lane reached on second baseman Jose Castillo's fielding error and later scored when Gorzelanny hit Burke with the bases loaded.
"I thought to myself, 'All right, if you give up one run that's what you want to do.' The big thing about that whole inning is what everybody says, damage control," Gorzelanny said. "I think I could have pitched a little bit better, but a win's a win. I'm real happy with that."
So was Tracy.
"We had a little hiccup there tonight, but what really pleases me is the fact that we realize this is going to happen once in a while. But to realize it and bounce right back and get right back on track and do the things that you know are going to make you a good team, that's what's very pleasing to see and that's exactly what they did," Tracy said. "I can't tell you how pleased I was that our starter didn't let that inning get away."
The Pirates scored their first run in the second inning on Bautista's RBI double. Bautista's gapper to right-center scored Nady, who had led off the inning with a double to center.
Gorzelanny gave up a run in the first on an RBI single by Carlos Lee, but avoided further damage by striking out Morgan Ensberg. The Astros added a run in the ninth on a Craig Biggio homer. Biggio's three hits moved the second baseman to within 66 of 3,000 for his career.
The Astros would get nothing else off Torres in the Pirates.
"We've come to a place where history suggests that we haven't been very good here [in Houston]," Tracy said. "To win three games in this ballpark, to play the kind of games we played and to pitch the way we pitched, it's a great way to start."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.