Pirates defeat Astros, 6-3
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson hits a two-run home run during the third inning of last night's road win. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen scored on the homer.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson (2), second baseman Ramon Vazquez (5) and outfielders Brandon Moss, right, Andrew McCutchen (22) and Garrett Jones celebrate after beating the Astros, 6-3, last night.
Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche throws to first base after fielding a ball hit by Houston Astros left fielder Carlos Lee during the second inning of last night's game. Lee was safe at first on the play.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen hits an RBI-single to score teammate Ramon Vazquez during the seventh inning of last night's game.
Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm throws against the Astros during the first inning of last night's road game.
Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez, right, tags out Pirates catcher Jason Jaramillo as he tries to score during the seventh inning of last night's game.
Astros second baseman Kazuo Matsui reaches to field a ground ball hit by Pirates outfielder Brandon Moss during the seventh inning of last night's game. Moss was out at first on the play.
Astros pitcher Brian Moehler throws against the Pirates during the first inning of last night's game.
Astros right fielder Hunter Pence hits an RBI single to score teammate Lance Berkman during the sixth inning of last night's game.
Astros first baseman Lance Berkman reaches to catch a foul ball hit by Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson during the sixth inning of last night's game.
Share with others:
HOUSTON -- One thing changed while another remained constant for the Pirates last night at Minute Maid Park.
For a change, the offense showed up briefly for a strong, seventh-inning burst.
But there was also that old reliable -- shortstop Jack Wilson flexing his offensive muscles in this ballpark unlike any other in which he plays.
On the strength of a four-run seventh that broke open a tie score and Wilson's 10th career home run at this venue, the Pirates earned a much-needed, 6-3 victory against the Houston Astros.
The win served to buck more than a few trends.
First, it ended a three-game losing streak as well as a run of five losses in the past six games. The Pirates also had been 2-36 in games they had been outhit, but won despite collecting seven hits to Houston's 10.
And then there was that trend with starting pitcher Paul Maholm -- that one got reversed, too. He had won just one of his previous five starts and was coming off an outing last week against the New York Mets in which he yielded 11 hits and six runs in 41/3 innings. But he improved his record to 6-4 by throwing six strong innings, giving up six hits.
"It has been weird," Maholm said. "For some reason, I haven't been consistent enough to string a bunch of [good starts] together. But, I knew it was getting close, and it paid off."
• Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 2:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: : RHP Charlie Morton (1-1, 2.65) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (7-6, 3.21).
• Key matchup: Rodriguez is the anti-Mike Hampton, good against most teams but 3-4 with a 5.34 ERA in his career against the Pirates. Adam LaRoche, in particular, is 5 for 12 off him.
• Of note: The Pirates' outfield has 25 assists, leading Major League Baseball. Highest total among those still on team is Brandon Moss' eight.
In truth, that seventh-inning offensive punch helped it pay off.
Garrett Jones, Andy LaRoche and Ramon Vazquez drew one-out walks before Jason Jaramillo hit a sharp grounder to Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who made a throwing error to the plate to give the Pirates a 3-2 advantage.
From there, Delwyn Young, Andrew McCutchen and Wilson had RBI singles and, just like that, an inning that began 2-2 turned into a 6-2 Pirates lead.
"We got some runs, especially late, that really helped us out," Pirates manager John Russell said. "Guys kept battling and put together some decent at-bats."
Perhaps the best at-bats, though, came in the third, when the Pirates made it 2-0 on a two-pronged, two-out rally.
First, McCutchen's line-drive hit into right center was tracked down just before the warning track by Michael Bourn. McCutchen looked as if he had his eyes on a triple -- or at least trying to stretch it to three bases.
But, as the rookie rounded second, he slammed on the brakes in a show of his increasing maturity, taking the sure double rather than the calculated risk (particularly with two outs) and heading for third.
"You know what you have to do," McCutchen said. "Why take that risk? Bourn was going to get the ball as I was at second, and I have Jack [Wilson] behind me, and there's no sense to do something crazy there."
He didn't. And that's why the second component to the rally surfaced.
Wilson unloaded on a changeup from starter Brian Moehler, driving it into the left-field seats for his fourth home run of the season but, moreover, a continuation of his home run prowess at Minute Maid Park.
For some perspective on how much his power numbers spike at the stadium, consider this: While playing many more games at PNC Park, Wilson has hit 24 home runs in his career there. Also, of all away parks, the one in which he has the next-most punch is at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where he has hit four career home runs.
"You know when you are at a place that's big, and you know when you are at a smaller place," said Wilson after his 3-RBI performance.
"Here, I know that, in a certain situation, if the guy throws a certain pitch, I'm going to swing with a little uppercut. It isn't very often you can do that, but, here you can."
The Astros cut it to 2-1 in the third and tied it in the sixth at 2-2. But that was before the Pirates' outburst in the seventh and Matt Capps worked the ninth for his 19th save.
First Published July 8, 2009 12:00 am