On September 7, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates were hosting the Houston Astros. Both teams were bad at the time. The Pirates had a winning record on August 1st, but by the time this game rolled around, they were on an 11-36 stretch and they dropped 12 games below the .500 mark. The Astros were just awful all season. They had a 48-94 record going into this game. As it worked out, these two bad teams were evenly matched this day, with 12,330 brave fans looking on at PNC Park on a Wednesday night, watching them fight for a win.
The Pirates had Brian Burres getting the start, one of two starts he made that season. This was actually the final start of his six-year career. The Astros were going with J.A. Happ, who was nearing the end of the worst season of his 14-year big league career.
Burres started off with two ground outs before allowing a single to J.D. Martinez. The next batter up was Carlos Lee and he hit his 15th home run of the season. That was followed by a solo shot from Matt Downs to make it 3-0 before the Pirates got a chance to hit.
Happ started off just like Burres, with two quick outs before Andrew McCutchen went yard for his 21st home run of the season.
In the second inning, Houston put two runners on with singles to lead-off the frame. A failed sacrifice attempt led to a force out at third base, then Burres got a fly ball and a strikeout to end the inning. The Pirates had two walks in the bottom of the inning, but they failed to cut into the 3-1 deficit.
After both teams went down in order in the third inning, Clint Barmes went yard to extend Houston’s lead. Just two months after this game, Barmes would sign a free agent deal with the Pirates. In the bottom of the fourth, Derrek Lee singled to start the inning, then Happ struck out the next three batters.
Jared Hughes replaced Burres for the final out in the fourth. He was making his big league debut in this game. Hughes gave up a single in the fifth, but nothing else. In the bottom of the fifth, McCutchen once again came through for the Bucs. After Michael McKenry struck out to start the inning, Brandon Wood batted for Hughes and walked. Alex Presley singled, then Josh Harrison struck out. McCutchen stepped up and belted his 22nd home run of the season on the first pitch he saw from Happ. It tied up the score 4-4. The Pirates threatened to add more, as Derrek Lee followed with a single and Neil Walker walked, but Ryan Ludwick made the final out.
Daniel McCutchen came on to pitch and faced the minimum in the sixth, with a ground ball double play erasing a lead-off walk. The Pirates went down in order in the bottom of the frame.
In the seventh, Chris Leroux came on to pitch for the Pirates and had a 1-2-3 inning, though he needed 17 pitches to get through three batters. The Pirates got a single from Presley and a walk by McCutchen, but Lee struck out and Walker grounded out to end the inning.
Leroux recorded the first two outs in the eighth, then Tony Watson came on for the final out, retiring Brian Bogusevic on a weak ground out to shortstop.
The bottom of the eighth was a wild one for only four batters. It started with a new Houston pitcher, Wilton Lopez, who retired Ryan Ludwick. Garrett Jones pinch-hit for Ronny Cedeno and singled. Ryan Doumit hit for McKenry and Chase d’Arnaud ran for Jones. Doumit singled to right field and d’Arnaud moved up to second base. The Astros changed pitchers again and Jason Jaramillo pinch-hit for Watson. That’s when a crazy play happened.
Jaramillo fouled off a 1-2 pitch before sending the next offering into right field. That allowed d’Arnaud to score, but the two catchers ran into trouble on the bases. On a play that ended up being scored 9-2-6-9-2, Jaramillo was tagged out at second base and Doumit was thrown out at home. The Pirates had a 5-4 lead, but could have made it an even bigger inning.
As it turned out, closer Joel Hanrahan only needed the one run. He made quick work in a ten-pitch inning, getting two grounders and a strikeout for his 36th save of the season. McCutchen would hit just one more home run over the final 19 games of the season. His 23 homers were a career high (through three seasons) at that point, but he would top that with 31 in 2012.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play from Baseball-Reference.