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Pirates outlast Astros

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Give this to the Pirates — they keep you guessing.

One day after being shackled by a 37-year-old right-hander who allows nearly a run an inning, the Pirates knocked around the pitcher with the second-best ERA in baseball.

Go figure.

The Pirates held off a late scare and beat the Astros and 1.71-ERA-toting Wandy Rodriguez, 7-4, on Saturday night in front of a sold-out Skyblast crowd at PNC Park.

Jeff Karstens (2-2) won for the first time since April 21. He pitched seven innings, his longest outing of the season. He allowed two runs on six hits and matched his season-high with four strikeouts.

It was only Karstens’ second victory in his past 15 starts, dating to the two-hitter at Arizona last Aug. 6. He believed his spot in the rotation was slipping after he struggled in back-to-back starts against the Brewers and the Reds four weeks ago.

“I was on the verge of being sent out,” he said.

Since then, Karstens has three quality starts in five outings and hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in any start.

“I knew from the beginning that my job was on the line,” he said. “I wasn’t pitching well. It was a reality check. I went home and had to look at myself. I’ve taken a step forward and done what I’ve needed to prepare myself.”

The Pirates’ offense helped. They led 3-0 after one inning and handed Rodriguez, whose ERA entering the game trailed only Zach Greinke, his worst outing since July 30, a span of 18 starts.

Eric Hinske, part of a lineup that didn’t include regulars Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss, went 3 for 3. Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoche and Jack Wilson each went 2 for 4 as part of a 13-hit attack.

Six different players drove in runs for the Pirates, who snapped a three-game losing streak and avoided falling into a last-place tie with the Astros in the NL Central.

It wasn’t without some late drama. The Astros scored two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded, but Matt Capps – pitching for the first time since the line-drive to his right elbow six days ago — got clean-up hitter Carlos Lee to ground out to second to end the game for his 10th save.

The Pirates tagged Rodriguez for five earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. They scored as many runs in the first inning (three) as Rodriguez had allowed in any of his 10 previous starts this season.

With a packed house of 37,167 fans eagerly awaiting the post-game fireworks show and Zac Brown Band concert, the Astros made them wait a bit in the ninth. After getting two quicks outs in the ninth, Tom Gorzelanny loaded the bases with a walk, a double and a walk.

Capps hit Miguel Tejada with a pitch to score one run and walked Lance Berkman for another run for a 7-4 score. But Capps got Lee to ground out, and the music and fireworks followed.

“I was a little too emotional, a little too excited, a little too amped out there,” Capps said. “I was able to calm myself down and get the out when I needed it.”

— John Grupp

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