Pirates beat Astros, move above .500

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HOUSTON -- The Pirates hurdled the .500 barrier without Charlie Morton's best performance.

Wednesday, they got help Neil Walker and the offense.

Walker had three RBIs, Xavier Paul hit his first home run and the Pirates defeated the Houston Astros, 7-3, at Minute Maid Park to push their record over .500 at the latest point in the season since 1999.

Walker went 2 for 3 with a triple and Paul was 3 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs.

On Aug. 15, 1999, the Pirates were 59-58, thanks to a 2-0 win against the Astros with Todd Ritchie on the mound. The Pirates have now won four of their past five games and secured a series victory against the Astros, their 13th of the season.

Morton gave up eight hits in five innings, allowing three runs. He did not pitch as well as in recent starts, but got key outs when he needed them.

Astros lefty J.A. Happ allowed two runs, but the Pirates worked his pitch count -- 108 over five innings -- and took the lead against the Astros' bullpen.

Walker got to work early. He sliced a triple into right field in the first inning past a sliding Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen, who had walked, scored to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.

Morton found himself in trouble in the bottom of the first. He allowed hits to Pence and Carlos Lee and walked Brett Wallace to load the bases with two outs, but got Chris Johnson to ground out up the middle and end the threat.

Michael McKenry got his first major-league hit in the second inning when he singled into left field.

Matt Diaz doubled down the left-field line in the third, and Walker ripped a single up the middle to score him and put the Pirates up, 2-0.

Walker was hitting .191 against left-handers entering the game.

Morton could not work out of trouble as easily in the third. Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger singled, and Wallace's single scored Bourn to reduce the Pirates' lead to 2-1.

The Astros tied it in the fourth. Morton walked J.R Towles, who advanced to second on Happ's sac bunt. Bourn singled to left, and Towles barely beat Jose Tabata's throw to tie the game, 2-2.

With Johnson on first base and two outs in the fifth inning, Morton left a fastball up to Barmes, who hit it to deep left-center field. The ball would have been a home run had it traveled 10 feet to the left, but the ballpark extends outward after a short section of seats in left field, so the ball hit off the wall for an RBI double. The Astros took a 3-2 lead on the play.

Paul pinch-hit for Morton in the sixth and doubled to left-center field. He went to third on Tabata's single and scored on pinch-hitter Garrett Jones' single to right field to tie the game at 3-3. Tabata scored on McCutchen's bouncing fielder's choice to put the Pirates ahead, 4-3, and Jones went to third on a throwing error.

Walker flied out to left, but got his third RBI of the game when Jones tagged and scored from third.

McKenry singled in the seventh, and Paul hit the first pitch he saw, a fastball high and outside, the opposite way over the short porch in left field off Fernando Rodriguez. The Pirates led, 7-3.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com .


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