HOUSTON -- It most assuredly was not Brandon Moss' fault, the Pirates' 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros last night at Minute Maid Park.
Not when a Nyjer Morgan baserunning blunder loomed large.
Not when two September callups played prominent roles for the victors.
But it just might be that Moss' night -- getting one hit in three critical situations -- is more meaningful, for better or worse, from the wider lens management is using to examine individuals and their future roles this month.
In Moss' case, although he is still a week removed from turning 25, that means taking strides toward becoming an RBI guy.
"Being a 3-4-5 guy in the order, that's exactly what I want. I want to be the guy that the team eventually looks to," Moss said. "But this was a learning experience, that's for sure."
Not entirely negative, either.
First, rewind to the Pirates' fourth and Morgan's blunder: He led off with a single off Alberto Arias and, when Arias' errant pickoff throw carried far enough into foul territory, he sprinted to third while first baseman Lance Berkman chased down the ball. That was not enough, though, and Morgan tiptoed 20 feet down the line toward home, almost appearing to double-dare Berkman to throw, then took off.
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 4.50) vs. LHP Randy Wolf (3-1, 3.80).
- Key matchup: Who's afraid of Wolf? He has faced the Pirates eight times and is 5-1 with a 3.61 ERA and .217 opponents' batting average.
- Of note: Brian Bixler, the Pirates' rookie shortstop, has struck out 29 times in just 93 at-bats. He has just four walks, as many times as he has been hit by a pitch.
Berkman's throw nailed him.
"I was trying to create too much," Morgan said. "I understand it's a mistake. That cost us a run. I like to be aggressive, but I can't let that happen again."
The coaching staff addressed the matter with Morgan afterward.
"He did a good job getting to third," manager John Russell said. "There's nobody out. Stay there."
It looked worse when the Pirates loaded the bases with two outs, only to come up empty on Moss' groundout.
Arias, let off the hook, would go on to five scoreless innings.
Which brings this back to Moss ...
Since joining the Pirates Aug. 1, his overall average is .262 with 15 RBIs in 117 at-bats, neither number being all that bad. Within that, though, he is batting .193 -- 6 for 31 -- with runners in scoring position, including 1 for 3 on this night.
"You never want to leave anyone on base," Moss said. "But all mine tonight came with two outs, and that's not bad. It's not like you can get a groundout RBI or sacrifice fly there. You treat the at-bats a little different."
In the fourth, Moss followed a five-pitch walk to Adam LaRoche that loaded the bases and, potentially, had begun to rattle Arias in his first major league start. Moss took two balls to heighten the rattling, but then rolled over a sinker for an easy putout at first.
"That's the at-bat I'd like to have back," Moss said. "I got into a good count, then swung at his pitch."
Houston took a 3-0 lead in the fifth, but two-out RBI singles by LaRoche and Moss in the Pirates' next at-bat pulled them within 3-2. LaRoche took the left-hander Wesley Wright the other way to left and Moss, watching on deck, followed suit and dropped the ball almost on the same patch of grass.
"That was the good one," Moss said, smiling.
The final one came in the eighth, after Ryan Doumit singled off LaTroy Hawkins and LaRoche's drive to deep center -- the deepest point here being 436 feet -- took an unfortunate bounce over the fence for a book-rule double and kept Doumit from scoring the tying run.
Up again was Moss with two outs, and Hawkins went mostly slow: The first three pitches were curveballs, the fourth a borderline fastball that got the strike call and ran the count to 2-2. Another curve came for a ball, and yet another found the back door for a called strike.
Six pitches, zero swings.
"Honestly, on that at-bat, I just tip my cap to Hawkins," Moss said. "I got carved up. But you know what? I can learn from that, too."
Ian Snell turned in his fifth quality start in six outings, limiting Houston to three runs over six innings while fanning nine. The velocity hovered at 95 mph, as it has for a while now, and the curveball, coming at the speed of a slider, was drawing most of the swings and misses.
"It is a curveball," Snell said. "Everyone keeps calling it a slider, but that's my curve."
The only curve thrown Snell's way came with how Houston started its rally in the fifth, all after two outs: Mark Saccomanno, the Astros' other September star for the game, became the 100th player in major league history to homer in his first at-bat, sending Snell's first-pitch fastball beyond right-center.
"That pitch was down and away, and he got it," Snell said.
The next four batters singled, and it was 3-0.
"I thought Ian threw the ball well," Russell said. "The one inning hurt, obviously, but he gave us a chance to win."
The Pirates are 3-4 on this 10-game, cross-continent trip.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 9, 2008 8:00 AM