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Norris sparkles as Astros shut down Pirates, 1-0

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WILL GRAVES | May 11, 2012 10:25 PM EST | AP

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PITTSBURGH — Bud Norris allowed three hits in six sharp innings and the Houston Astros edged the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 on Friday night.

Brian Bogusevic singled and scored in the second on a double-play grounder to provide all the offense the Astros needed in support of Norris (3-1), who struck out eight without walking a batter.

Brett Myers pitched the ninth for his ninth save.

Pittsburgh's James McDonald (2-2) extended his impressive start, giving up just four hits in eight innings while striking out eight and walking two.

Norris worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the sixth and Houston's improved bullpen made it stand up.

The Pirates certainly helped, running themselves into several outs on the bases and going 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

The Astros, who had baseball's worst record last season, have been a modest surprise so far this spring. They began the night with a 6-4 record in their last 10 games thanks to an offense that ranked fourth in the National League in runs.

The offense struggled against the resurgent McDonald but managed to do just enough to improve to 6-1 in Norris' seven starts. Bogusevic led off the second with a single and went to third on Chris Johnson's single to right. Bogusevic scored when Justin Maxwell grounded into a double play.

The Astros didn't get a runner to third the rest of the game, but it hardly mattered.

Norris dropped his ERA to 3.95 by effectively keeping the Pirates off balance. Three relievers did the rest as Houston's bullpen – which was last in the National League in ERA in 2011 – continued its stellar performance.

The Pirates were hoping a nine-game homestand would give them some needed momentum. Instead they're just 3-4 with two games remaining, their loss on Friday night reminiscent of several recent missed opportunities.

Pittsburgh ran itself out of a promising inning in the fourth when Jose Tabata led off with a triple. He was tagged out easily while trying to score on a grounder to shortstop by Andrew McCutchen, who was later caught stealing trying to get into scoring position.

Things looked more promising in the sixth. Rod Barajas led off with a double and moved to third on a single by Clint Barmes. McDonald successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt and was safe at first when Norris mishandled the ball, loading the bases with no outs.

Then the Pirates showed why they're last in the majors in runs.

Tabata worked the count full before striking out on a 92 mph fastball. Nate McLouth popped up meekly to second and McCutchen couldn't check his swing on a 2-2 breaking ball as the crowd groaned in frustration.

It wouldn't be the last time.

The Pirates' final gasp came in the eighth when Barajas led off with a single. He was replaced by Josh Harrison, and Barmes attempted to bunt Harrison to second when things got weird.

Barmes pulled back after squaring up when a pitch from Wilton Lopez got a little too far inside. The ball appeared to bounce off Barmes' bat – which was still squared up – and roll into foul territory. Because there were two strikes, plate umpire James Hoye declared Barmes out for bunting foul with two strikes.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle came out to argue, and Barmes was given a second chance.

When Houston manager Brad Mills asked for an explanation, he was ejected by first base umpire Jim Joyce.

Mills needn't have worried. Lopez picked off Harrison and retired Barmes as the Pirates went quietly again.

NOTES: Pittsburgh starting pitcher Jeff Karstens, on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, could begin side sessions in the bullpen next week, though his return is still uncertain. ... The series continues Saturday. J.A. Happ (2-2, 5.24 ERA) starts for the Astros against Charlie Morton (1-3, 4.61). ... The Astros improved to 5-9 on the road. ... Houston infielder Jose Altuve went 0 for 3 with a walk while batting third for the first time in his career.