Williams shuts out Astros
HOUSTON – In one splendid afternoon, Dave Williams knocked a few items off his to-do list.
First complete game. Check.
First shutout. Check.
First 10-win season. Check.
Williams accomplished all of the above Sunday while crafting a five-hitter in the Pirates’ 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros, a win that also featured a season-high four home runs.
In shutting down the NL wild-card leader, Williams struck out seven, walked one, faced just three batters above the minimum and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base. He improved his record to a team-best 10-8 and lowered his ERA to 3.88.
“It was awesome,” catcher Ryan Doumit said. “We had them eating out of the palm of his hand all day.”
It was a remarkable performance considering Williams had never lasted more than seven innings in any of his previous 54 starts and was 0-3 lifetime in five starts against the Astros.
“I felt pretty good, probably the best I’ve felt all year,” Williams said. “I was throwing everything for strikes. It’s easy to pitch when you’ve got your good stuff.”
Williams sought out reporters after his interview to amend that final sentence. He didn’t want the Astros to construe his comments as bragging.
Still, he allowed that the shutout was a moment worth savoring.
“For any pitcher who’s had hit first CG, it’s probably the highlight of their career, especially against a squad like this,” Williams said.
“They’ve always hit me pretty good. I was able to contain them, but I don’t want to hype up any start because we’ve still got another month and a half to go.”
All of the Pirates runs came via the long ball, with Jose Castillo and Jason Bay hitting solo homers, Doumit a two-run shot and Jack Wilson a grand slam that padded the lead for Williams in the eighth inning.
“Dave pitched an outstanding game, that’s the bottom line,” Wilson said.
“He absolutely dealt. It was good to get the big hit and put the game out of reach because a 4-0 lead here is not that big of a lead. For him to throw zeroes through nine innings is pretty impressive.”
Williams never allowed more than one hit — or base-runner — an inning.
Three times when the Astros did get a runner aboard, Williams was able to coax an inning-ending double play. That eased the strain on a pitch count that reached 118, including 79 strikes.
“Sometimes, when you see the ball and the guy is not overpowering, you tend to be overaggressive,” Astros outfielder Jason Lane said. “He’d show you one pitch for a strike early in the count, and he’d never throw that pitch again or he’d throw it down and out of the zone.”
Consider it a lesson learned for Williams, whose pitch selection came under scrutiny in spring training and early in the season.
“One of the things we impressed upon David was to pitch, and not be a thrower and not let the game speed up on him,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Today, I thought he did a nice job of creating tempo, and he maintained it throughout the course of the game. It was just a nice performance by him.”
Williams’ pitch total already was in triple digits when he took the mound in the ninth, but McClendon had nobody warming up in the bullpen.
“I’m glad Lloyd let me go back out,” Williams said. “I wanted to at least try for it.”
The ball never left the infield. Williams induced a pop-up and two ground balls to polish off the Pirates’ second shutout of the Astros within 24 hours.
It also was the team’s fourth win in the past five games at Minute Maid Park.
“Look at the standings and it doesn’t mean much,” McClendon said. “In the big scheme of things, these are the type of games you build on, particularly with as young of a club as we have. It’s a building block.”