A trio of unlikely sources propelled the Pirates to a 6-3 victory against the Astros Wednesday night at PNC Park.
Kevin Correia was efficient in a spot start. Clint Barmes was effective at the plate. Alex Presley scored half of the Pirates' runs.
The three, maligned at times this season, helped the Pirates seal a series win against the doormat of the National League and pull within 1 ￂﾽ games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the NL.
Pitching in place of Jeff Karstens, who left early from back-to-back starts with a right hip flexor issue, Correia was strong. He allowed one earned run on six hits in six innings -- a quality start. It was his fourth start since moving to the bullpen when the team acquired left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez before the trade deadline, and it was his sharpest of the bunch.
"It's not a new role," Correia said. "It's been awhile since I've done this sort of role, but it's just a matter of getting used to not knowing when you're going to throw again and kind of seeing how that's going to affect you when you're out there. I've felt pretty comfortable."
Correia threw only 67 pitches, 42 for strikes, to earn his 10th victory of the season.
Manager Clint Hurdle said it was too early to determine if Karstens will miss another start.
Presley and Barmes sparked an "efficient offense" that scored six runs on nine hits with some creativity.
And both had their roles jumbled a bit before the start of the game. Presley was not in the original starting lineup, added late when Jose Tabata was scratched with a foot contusion. Barmes slid from the eighth spot in the lineup, where Presley was inserted, to the second spot, in front of Andrew McCutchen.
"That's a honey hole, hitting in front of Andrew McCutchen," Hurdle said.
Barmes drank it in, going 1 for two with two walks, a run and an RBI on a perfectly executed squeeze play in the sixth inning.
"They're going to come at you a little more than where I'm used to being," said Barmes about hitting second. "Knowing that coming in, I just tried not to do too much."
Presley went 2 for 4, reaching on an error in one of those at-bats, with three runs and one RBI and provided a "shot in the arm" for the offense, Hurdle said.
"Alex can play. Alex can hit," Hurdle said. "It's finding that consistent rhythm, and there's been some challenges with that. Playing time's one of them. But up here, you've got to earn your way, you've got to find your way."
Presley and Barmes have struggled at the plate this season. Presley entered the game hitting .234; Barmes was .221.
Presley said he spoke with Barmes before the game to get some tips about batting eighth.
"It was weird because I don't know if I've ever done it," he said.
They weren't the only ones getting in on the action for the Pirates (72-64), who are now 10 victories away from securing their first winning season in 20 years with 26 games remaining on the schedule.
Brock Holt went 1 for 3 with two RBIs, and Gaby Sanchez was 3 for 4 with an RBI in the last game the Astros (42-95) will play at PNC Park as division rivals.
The Pirates took command of the game in the fourth inning, when they scored twice to take a four-run lead.
Rod Barajas, who turned 37 Wednesday, led off the inning with a single. Then he got to show off his wheels -- built to carry a monster truck, not a Corvette. Presley cranked a line drive over Brian Bogusevic's head in centerfield, and Barajas took off. He labored around the bases and scored standing up on Presley's triple.
Correia got in a jam in the fourth inning. After allowing leadoff batter Jimmy Paredes to double and eventually score, he loaded the bases with one out and Carlos Corporan at the plate.
Then, his defense came to the rescue on what Hurdle called the "biggest play of the night."
Corporan hit a grounder at first baseman Sanchez, who fielded the ball and fired it home, ahead of lead runner Brett Wallace. Barajas stepped to his left and threw out Corporan at first base, a 3-2-3 double play that ended the inning and kept the Pirates ahead, 3-1.
"A lot of catchers don't make that double play because they're not looking to make that second play," Hurdle said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 6, 2012 1:45 AM