A trio of unlikely sources propelled the Pirates to a 6-3 victory Wednesday night against the Houston Astros at PNC Park.
Kevin Correia was efficient in a spot start. Clint Barmes was effective at the plate. Alex Presley scored half 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 1/2 games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the National League.
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 and 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 one.
"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 67 pitches, 42 for strikes, to earn his 10th victory this 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, delivered nine hits and displayed some creativity.
And both had their roles jumbled a bit right before the game began. Presley was not in the original starting lineup, but, after Jose Tabata was scratched because of a foot contusion. Barmes jumped from eighth to second in the batting order.
Meanwhile, Presley was inserted into the eighth spot as Tabata's replacement in the outfield.
"That's a honey hole, hitting in front of Andrew McCutchen," Hurdle said of Barmes' elevation to the No. 2 spot.
Barmes drank it, going 1 for 2 with two walks, a run and an RBI on a perfectly executed squeeze play in the sixth.
"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 first on an error in one of those at-bats, scored three runs and knocked in a run 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 .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 10 victories away from securing their first winning season in the past 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 final game the Astros (42-95) will play at PNC Park as division rivals.
The Pirates took command in the fourth, when they scored twice to take a four-run lead.
Rod Barajas, who turned 37 Wednesday, led off 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 center, 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. 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, 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 4:15 AM