After a solid week of bashing the opponents’ brains in with big hit after big hit, I’ve been hoping to see the Pirates’ pitching staff slowly step back into the spotlight. It’s not that I have any problems with how the Pirates have been playing lately — I’m not one to quibble with results like this — it’s just that good teams tend to be balanced teams and the Pirates’ pitching staff has been slowly slipping of late, enough that it’s been bugging me for a while.
So tonight Jeff Karstens took the mound in a game that I think we all had a notion could be slightly lower scoring for the Buccos. As good as the offense has been of late, the team definitely still struggles against strikeout pitchers and as much as Bud Norris has struggled of late, he’s definitely a strikeout pitcher. Norris wasn’t brilliant tonight (he gave up four doubles), but he managed to limit the damage against him pretty well and the Pirates found themselves unable to do much after taking a 2-0 lead in the third.
None of that mattered because Jeff Karstens looked about as good on the mound as he ever has. His curveball looked like a wiffleball pitch tonight and it had the Astros flailing out of their shoes over and over again (he threw 20 curves, 17 for strikes, and seven of those 17 were swinging strikes). He struck out eight Astros in his eight innings of work, walked one, and never let two runners on base at any point in the game. He had a five-pitch inning in the third and a seven-pitch inning in the eight. Even in his best starts last year, Karstens seemed efficient more often than dominant. Tonight, he was dominant. It’s true that the Astros came into tonight tied with the Pirates for most strikeouts in the NL and that they no longer have Carlos Lee in their lineup, but the Pirates needed a great start from Karstens tonight and they absolutely got one.
The win completes a four-game sweep of the Astros, it gives the Pirates their eighth win in their last nine games, it puts the Pirates ten games above .500 at 46-36, and it ensures them of another day alone in first place, no matter what the Reds do tonight. This is a strange world we’re living in and I’m not complaining about it even one little bit.