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McDonald dazzles in Labor Day downpour

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Ryan Doumit had three hits, James McDonald pitched into the eighth inning and Derrek Lee homered as Pittsburgh beat the Houston Astros 3-1 on Monday.

James McDonald pitched into the eighth inning on Labor Day, pouring in strikes in a 3-1 win over the Astros as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee soaked PNC Park. Ryan Doumit tallied three hits and Derrek Lee went deep in support of McDonald, who fired a season-high 7.1 frames.

"I feel like things are going in the right direction now," McDonald said. "Just getting ahead of guys, that was a big key to the success I had today."

McDonald (9-7) threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 28 batters he faced, allowing three hits while striking out six batters and walking three. Overall, 65 of his 91 pitches (71 percent) went for strikes.

"He was really good today," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Great tempo, rhythm, all of it. Just another big step forward for him."

The start of the game was delayed by nearly an hour, PNC Park's warning track turned into Downtown's fourth river and the pitching mound had to be padded with dirt nearly every inning, but that didn't faze McDonald.

"A lot of it's mental, really," McDonald said. "Just stay focused on the job you have to do, and you'll be alright."

"He was working ahead of everybody," Doumit said. "To go that deep in the game under these conditions was a beautiful thing."

Houston (47-94) took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, as McDonald made a rare misstep by walking Astros starter Henry Sosa (2-3) on four pitches. Jose Altuve later scored Sosa by tripling to right field on a fly ball that turned around Jose Tabata at the warning track. Tabata tried to make a leaping grap, but the ball bounced off his glove.

McDonald clamped down, though, and the Pirates (65-76) plated three unanswered runs. In the fourth inning, Andrew McCutchen beat out a ground ball down the third base line that Jimmy Paredes couldn't grip, and Lee got drilled in the ribs by a first-pitch fastball. With one out, Doumit tied the game at one apiece by golfing a low fastball from Sosa to deep left-center field. Josh Harrison then plated Lee with a single to shallow center field.

In eighth, Lee launched a Wilton Lopez slider located on the outside corner over the Clemente Wall to extend the Pirates' lead to two.

Hurdle praised his hitters for going the opposite way, resisting the temptation to become pull-happy.

"It's been a point of discussion, and some are picking it up better than others," Hurdle said. "Hit the ball hard where it's pitched."

With the rain coming down harder and the grounds crew doing its best to keep his footing firm, McDonald issued a pair of walks to pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck and Schafer in the eighth inning. But Jason Grilli put a damper on Houston's potential rally, getting Altuve to chop a slider back to the mound and striking out J.D. Martinez looking on a fastball that caught the inside corner.

Joel Hanrahan allowed a walk and a pair of hits in the ninth, but a base running blunder kept the Astros off the board. With runners on first and second base and one out, pinch-hitter Matt Downs hit a fastball that dropped in shallow center field. Chris Johnson skidded to a stop at third base as Neil Walker scooped the ball out of the grass, but Paredes got caught in no-man's land between second and third. Hanrahan got Shuck to fly out to end the game.

Though he wanted to go the distance, McDonald showed strength and stamina in September by sitting at 93 MPH with his fastball and topping out at 96.

"The conditioning guys keep me in good shape," McDonald said. "All the hard work during the offseason, this is where it shows now."

Could McDonald, who has averaged about 6.1 innings per start since August, become a rotation workhorse?

"We'll give him some room to grow," Hurdle said. "I'd hate to paint a ceiling on him and what he's capable of doing, but I just love the growth and I love the challenges that he accepts...he has a very intense desire to get all that he has inside him out on the field when he competes.

"He's going post to post," Hurdle continued. "We'll continue to monitor the pitch counts. But there's just a lot to like about what he's going this season."

Jose Tabata exited Monday's game due to continued discomfort in his left wrist. Tabata struck out swinging to end the bottom of the third inning and was replaced by Garrett Jones in right field in the top of the fourth.

"It's kinda funny because he'll swing and say, 'I feel good,' and then one swing can just set it aflame," Hurdle said. "We've just got to back away for a period of time. How long that is, I don't know."

RHP Brett Myers (3-13, 4.81 ERA) faces RHP Brad Lincoln (1-1, 3.64 ERA). Lincoln, drafted fourth overall out of Houston in 2006, has a 2.63 ERA and a 12-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings pitched as a starter this season as he auditions for a spot in the 2012 rotation.

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