HOUSTON: Center fielder Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is congratulated by Neil Walker #18 and Alex Pressley #44 after makeing a sliding catch on a fly ball off the bat of Clint Barmes #12 of the Houston Astros in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
First, some of the weekend's crucial scores: 6-5, 4-1 and 1-0.
Now, the big stories you might have missed this weekend, if you just didn't want it bad enough ...
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place!
No, the Pirates are not in first place. But they're only a half-game out of first place on the 18th of July, and given their history they might as well be in first place. It certainly must feel like first place to anyone who's suffered through the Pirates' 18 straight losing seasons.
The highlight of the entire weekend came Friday night in Houston, where Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens shut out the Astros. Of course that wasn't a big story; everybody shuts out the Astros. But Karsten's needed only 83 pitches for his nine scoreless innings, becoming only the sixth pitcher in this century to throw a nine-inning shutout with fewer than 85 pitches (Aaron Cook's done it twice).
Karstens, who entered this season with a 5.07 career ERA, now sports a 2.34 mark this season.
Can Karsten's keep pitching like a Cy Young candidate? Can the Pirates stay in this thing for another month or two? Hey, it's baseball. Youneverknow.
Rangers on a serious roll.
In sweeping the Mariners, the Rangers ran their winning streak to 11 games and opened up a four-game lead over the second-place Angels. And yes, the Rangers get full credit for all four wins over the Mariners, even though the M's a) scored only two runs in the entire series, and 2) are now carrying a .222 team batting average on the season (to name just one of many embarrassing numbers).
Yankees' No. 2 starter records Victory No. 1
That would be Phil Hughes. Hughes, as you might recall, started a few games early in the season before a small zombie was discovered living in his right arm. You might be amazed by how long it takes to remove a zombie from a pitcher's arm. Apparently there's a whole team of specialists involved and you don't even want to know about the rehab process. Anyway, Hughes seems to be completely alive again. He didn't look so hot against the Indians before the All-Star break, but Sunday afternoon he pitched six strong innings against the Blue Jays.
The Twins (the Twins?) are back in action.
Yeah, the Twins. Even without either of their superstars doing anything at all this season, somehow the Minnesota Twins are only five games out of first place. Well, there's not really any somehow about it. The Twins are back in the running because they play in a weak division, and because of Michael Cuddyer and Scott Baker. Of course, Baker's on the DL. But at least Cuddyer's not going anywhere, and maybe he'll never stop hitting like an All-Star. Youneverknow.
Except we do know that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.