By Wilbur Miller
The Pirates took a doubleheader at Three Rivers Stadium from NL West-leading Houston and, thanks to a lot of help elsewhere, made a good deal of headway in the NL East. Willie Stargell and Phil Garner powered them to a 9-5 win in game one, and Bruce Kison shut down the Astros for eight innings in a 4-2 win in game two.
The twin bill didn’t start auspiciously for the Bucs, as Bert Blyleven wasn’t at his best. The Astros jumped on the Dutchman for three runs in the first on three singles, two walks and a Terry Puhl triple. It would have been worse if Blyleven hadn’t picked Jose Cruz off base for the inning’s second out.
The Pirates didn’t wait long to come back against Ken Forsch. Pops started the second inning with a double, and three runs eventually came home on singles by Bill Madlock and Garner, and a sacrifice fly by Ed Ott. Stargell made it 5-3 with a two-run bomb in the third, his 19th ‘tater of the year.
Blyleven’s struggles continued, though, and the Astros tied it in the fourth. Art Howe led off with a home run, then a walk and two singles tied the game. That finished Blyleven after three and a third. He was fortunate to escape with only five runs allowed, as he gave up eight hits and four walks.
The Bucs’ bullpen shut the Astros down after that. Dave Roberts stranded two of Blyleven’s runners, then threw two more scoreless innings. Enrique Romo followed with a scoreless seventh, then left with one out in the eighth after a walk and an error put two aboard. Grant Jackson came on to get the left-handed hitters Puhl and Cruz. Kent Tekulve retired three right-handed hitters in order in the ninth. That gave the ‘pen five and two-thirds scoreless innings altogether.
The Pirates’ offense meanwhile had put them back on top, 7-5, with another two-run homer. This one came from Garner, his fourth on the year, in the bottom of the sixth, of Forsch.
The Bucs added insurance runs with sacrifice flies in the seventh and eighth. Dave Parker hit the first one after Omar Moreno doubled and took third on a fielder’s choice. Ott got the second after Bill Robinson tripled.
Roberts got the win, making him 1-2 on the year. It was his first decision since joining the Pirates. Stargell, Robinson and Garner each had two hits. Howe had four for Houston.
Game two was dominated by Kison. He shut Houston out for eight innings, allowing just two hits, walking nobody and fanning five. One of the hits was wiped out on a double play and the other runner was stranded at second. Starting in the third, Kison retired 17 straight hitters.
The Pirates had only seven hits of their own, but it was enough. John Milner got them on the board in the first, belting a two-run home run off Joe Niekro. That was Milner’s seventh of the year.
The Bucs made it 4-0, still against Niekro, in the fifth. Kison helped his own cause, driving in Rennie Stennett with a single. Two infield hits loaded the bases and Dave Parker brought Kison home with a sacrifice fly. After the fifth, Houston reliever Rick Williams shut the Pirates out, facing only the minimum nine hitters.
Kison finally ran out of gas in the top of the ninth. A single and a double put runners on second and third to start the inning. Chuck Tanner went to Grant Jackson, who gave up a two-run single to Rafael Landestoy. That closed the books on Kison, who was charged with both runs and four hits total. Jackson quickly ended it after the single, getting Jesus Alou to ground into a double play and Puhl to line out.
The win improved Kison’s record to 6-4. Jackson picked up his 11th save.
The day was an especially productive one for the Bucs as the Expos, Cubs, Phillies and Cards all lost. That left them tied for second with Chicago, just two and a half games behind Montreal. The Phillies are three back of the Expos and the Cards six and a half.