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Astros' offense awakens against Pirates

Astros' offense awakens against Pirates
The Houston Astros' offense, along with left-hander Mike Hampton, came back to life Wednesday against the Pirates .

Back-to-back shutouts had pushed the Astros' losing skid to five games, and the middle of their lineup was stuck in a batting funk.

"They're gonna hit," Pirates manager John Russell said a couple of hours before the game. "It's no secret they've got good players. You can't continue to shut down (Lance) Berkman, (Carlos) Lee and (Miguel) Tejada. At some point, they're gonna hit. Hopefully, it's not for a couple more days."

Russell did not get his wish. The hits started coming early, and the Astros beat the Pirates , 4-1.

Tejada, Berkman and Lee combined for six hits, three RBI and three runs scored.

Coming into the game, Berkman was batting .167, Lee was at .192 and Tejada was hitting .269. Through the first seven games, they had combined for three RBI.

Left-hander Mike Hampton picked up his seventh consecutive victory against the Pirates . He hasn't lost to them since May 1999.

Bothered by a slew of injuries -- two elbow surgeries, and strained hamstring, groin and pectoral muscles -- Hampton made just 25 starts over the past two seasons. He had not faced the Pirates since 2003.

Hampton (1-1) tossed six shutout innings. He allowed four hits and one walk, and struck out eight.

"He got ahead," Russell said. "He's not an overpowering pitcher. But he kept the ball down, for the most part. The biggest key is he got ahead of us, and that'll keep you off-balance."

The Pirates' scored their only run when Adam LaRoche hit his third homer of the season in the ninth off closer Jose Valverde. Other than that, the Pirates did not have many chances.

"There were a few," Russell said. "Most of them came with two outs. We just didn't get the big hit."

Nate McLouth singled to right with two outs in the first inning. Hampton set down the next eight batters -- he struck out the side in the third -- before McLouth drew a walk with one out in the fourth.

Was it a sign that Hampton was weakening? Hardly. Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche took called third strikes.

"Sinkers, sliders, curveballs, cutters ... (Hampton) was mixing it up well," LaRoche said.

Craig Monroe began the fifth with a single to right. But Andy LaRoche flied out -- stretching his season-long batting slump to 0 for 16 -- and Ramon Vazquez struck out.

With Brandon Moss pinch-hitting for Ross Ohlendorf, a pitch squirted away from catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Monroe tried for second but was thrown out on a close play.

Ohlendorf (0-2) lasted five innings and yielded four runs and eight hits, including three doubles.

"I didn't locate my fastball real well," Ohlendorf said "It wasn't moving real well. I threw a lot of pitches. Walking the first guy (Michael Bourn) on four pitches was certainly a bad way to get started. I definitely set a bad tone."

The Astros took a 2-0 lead in the first, snapping a streak of 18 scoreless innings. After Bourn walked, they loaded the bases with none out. Lee and Hunter Pence hit sacrifice flies.

The middle of Houston's lineup got to Ohlendorf again in the third. Tejada led off with a single that ticked off the glove of third baseman Andy LaRoche.

Berkman doubled off the Clemente Wall in right. Lee ripped a two-run double to left to make it 4-0.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 17, 2009

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