PITTSBURGH -- Astros manager Phil Garner played on the last Pirates team to win a World Series, one featuring Hall of Famer Willie Stargell and former NL MVP Dave Parker in the middle of the order. No lead was safe against those 1979 Pirates.
A lot has changed 28 years and 21 Pirates losing seasons later.
Woody Williams threw eight shutout innings, a series of excellent Houston defensive plays repeatedly frustrated the Pirates and the Astros finally took a series against Pittsburgh by winning 1-0 Sunday.
"We scored six runs in this (three-game) series and won two games," said Garner, who hit .500 during that 1979 Pirates World Series victory against Baltimore. "Sometimes this game baffles you, but we'll take it."
The Pirates offense sputtered during a six-hit game against the 40-year-old Williams, who came into the game with a 4-11 record, and Brad Lidge. Journeyman infielder Matt Kata's double in the first represented their only extra-base hit.
"We had no opportunities to score," said Jim Tracy, who is 108-151 in his two seasons as the Pirates manager and is beginning to look it.
Tracy appeared as beaten down as he has all season after this loss, the Pirates' eighth in nine games since the All-Star break -- a stretch in which they have been held to three runs or fewer six times. They roughed up Williams for eight runs in 11 2/3 innings in beating him twice earlier this season, then did nothing against him Sunday.
"I felt comfortable today, not to take anything away from their lineup," Williams said. "My curve ball was very good and it kept me in the counts where I needed to be to control them."
Lidge followed Williams to pitch the ninth for his third consecutive save after not converting his first four opportunities earlier this season.
"I was thinking, `Just come in there and don't blow it,' " Lidge said. "The way Woody was throwing, there's no telling how easy the ninth would have been for him. He was fantastic."
Shane Youman (2-2), moved up in the Pirates' rotation so the struggling John Van Benschoten could skip a start, limited the Astros to four hits over eight innings but still took the loss. Half of Houston's hits came in the sixth, with Brad Ausmus leading off with the first of his two singles before moving up on a pair of ground outs and scoring on Scott's single to center.
"When you can't support a strong pitching performance like that, it is frustrating," Nate McLouth said.
Pence had the other Houston hit, a single in the first that raised his average to .330, before he clutched his right wrist in pain after popping up in the fourth inning. X-rays did not reveal any break in the wrist, and Garner is confident Pence's layoff will be a short one. Pence apparently hurt himself while running the bases in the first.
"He doesn't feel like it's very severe at all," Garner said. "He thinks he'll be fine."
At least the Astros figured out how to beat the Pirates, who won the first six games and seven of the first eight between the two NL Central teams. The Astros lost 25 of their previous 32 road games and hadn't won a road series since June 8-10 against the White Sox.
"We've had a rough go, and that's putting it lightly," Scott said.
The Pirates' familiar problem, a lack of hitting, quickly returned after they won for the first time in nearly two weeks Saturday. The middle of their order -- Freddy Sanchez, Xavier Nady and Jason Bay -- produced a lone single against Williams (5-11), who had lost five consecutive road decisions and was 1-8 on the road this season.
Williams gave up five hits and twice got out of innings with strong defensive plays, one of them his own.
With two on and two out in the fourth, catcher Ausmus leaned far into the Pirates' dugout to grab Youman's pop up. An inning later, Williams went to his knees in front of the mound and, throwing off-balance, got Sanchez on a close play at first.
There were good defensive plays all around, with Pirates center fielder McLouth sliding on his backside to run down Chris Burke's fly ball to short center field leading off the game. McLouth made a better grab by ranging far to his right to back a backhanded catch of Carlos Lee's drive into the left-center gap in the fourth.
Youman, a former LSU pitcher who wasn't considered much of a prospect until last season, has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts since joining the Pirates and has a 3.24 ERA. He struck out there and walked two.
- LF Lee took away a hit from LaRoche with a sliding catch of his low line drive in the seventh.
- Houston is 3-6 since the break.
- The Astros are averaging only 2.2 runs against the Pirates this season, with two more series to be played in Houston.
- SS Cesar Izturis, acquired from the Cubs on Thursday, also made several standout plays in the field in his first Pirates start.