Travis Snider began a slow jog toward home plate. Andrew McCutchen headed to third in a similar manner, and Brandon Inge broke to second as the ball sailed harmlessly into the night sky.
Seconds earlier, the PNC Park crowd of 29,743 was on its feet at full roar as Edgar Gonzalez delivered a 3-2 pitch to Russell Martin with two outs in the ninth inning.
As the ball descended into shallow right field, though, it drew Houston Astros second baseman Jake Elmore and right fielder Jimmy Paredes toward each other. They drew closer and closer until they collided. The ball fell, Snider scored, and the Pirates stole a 5-4 win in absurd fashion.
"Don't think I've ever been a part of a win on that kind of situation," Snider said after the Pirates' walk-off victory on what was ruled an error by Paredes. "We'll take it any way we can get it and move on."
The stroke of luck gave the Pirates their fourth win in a row and seventh in their past eight games.
Snider reached first on a fielder's choice in the ninth. McCutchen singled to right, allowing Snider to reach third. Inge grounded right back to Gonzalez, who stopped it to prevent a run, but fumbled it around and could not record an out.
"Really the read is if I can do anything to draw a throw to break up a double play," Snider said. "As soon as he bobbles it, I got to get back to my base to salvage my position at third."
Neil Walker struck out looking for the second out before Snider scored the winning run on Martin's pop fly.
"We had three check-swings, a tapper to the mound, a called third strike and a pop-up to right field," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The game's crazy sometimes."
The Pirates trailed, 4-2, until the eighth, but Pedro Alvarez tied the score in emphatic fashion.
Walker singled in the eighth off Wesley Wright. On the first pitch Alvarez saw from Hector Ambriz two batters later, he crushed it 462 feet for his seventh home run this season.
Starter Jeanmar Gomez, watching in the clubhouse, knew immediately.
"When he hit it and I saw his body language, [I thought], 'That was deep,' " Gomez said. "That was in the river."
The ball cleared the stands in right, bounced off the riverwalk and into the Allegheny River.
"I'm surprised it bounced," Snider said. "That ball was crushed. I was sitting there next to Cutch. We saw liftoff. It was pretty exciting for the whole bench. Kind of a slow-paced game for us offensively. To have the big fella come up there and put one over the stands, it's always fun to watch."
Alvarez's home run compensated for the chances the Pirates botched. It also made up for Gomez's outing, which was speeding along until he hit a wall in the fifth.
"It didn't cross my mind," Alvarez said when asked if he thought his drive had reached the river. "I was just glad to hit that ball well. I maybe thought about it after."
McCutchen went 3 for 5 with a home run and a double and Alvarez went 2 for 4.
Whatever Gomez had working for four innings abandoned him in the fifth. His defense didn't help. The Astros broke a 1-1 tie when Matt Dominguez hit his third home run this season. He kept his hands inside a sinker in and off the plate and hit it to left.
Marwin Gonzalez singled and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Lyles before Gomez walked Grossman. Elmore, an offseason waiver claim who joined the Astros when Jose Altuve went on the bereavement list, singled to score Gonzalez.
With Robbie Grossman on third, Elmore took off for second. Martin fired, and had him, but the ball scooted away from shortstop Clint Barmes at the bag. Walker's throw to the plate in an attempt to stop Grossman was off line, and the Astros led, 4-1. A walk to Jason Castro ended Gomez's outing.
Chris Carter aided the Pirates' comeback attempt in the sixth when he dropped McCutchen's easy fly ball to right, allowing McCutchen to reach third. Garrett Jones doubled McCutchen home.
First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM