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Houston at Pittsburgh

Scoreboard
Houston (32-50)020010001491
Pittsburgh (45-36) «03010020x6100

Pirates off to best start in 20 years

CBSSports.com wire reports
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PITTSBURGH -- Two months ago, an early two-run deficit would have had the Pittsburgh Pirates scrambling.

Now, it's just a blip. And for the moment, so is nearly two decades of losing.

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Mike McKenry and Pedro Alvarez drove in two runs apiece and the Pirates looked pretty comfortable during their first day in first place, beating the Houston Astros 6-4 on Wednesday.

The Astros, who have lost seven straight, shipped veteran first baseman Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins after the game as part of a rebuilding process. It's a process the Pirates know well, though it appears to be on its way to completion.

Pittsburgh has won seven of eight to improve to 45-36 at the season's midway point, looking very much like a team that could stick around through the summer.

"This stretch that we've had is awesome but I think this is very indicative of this ballclub," second baseman Neil Walker said. "We knew the bats were going to start coming around, and when we did we knew we were going to score a lot of runs."

Kevin Correia (5-6) will happily take the help. The 31-year-old pitched well early in the season but struggled to win as the offense limped out of the gate. Correia wasn't terribly sharp at muggy PNC Park but overcame a shaky start to give up three runs on six hits in six innings, walking two and striking out one to win at home against a National League team for the first time since joining the Pirates before the 2011 season.

The Astros touched Correia for two runs in the second, but the hole lasted all of 15 minutes before Pittsburgh -- which rallied from a four-run deficit to win on Tuesday -- roared back to take the lead.

"Normally the first month of the season, you give two runs early and you know it's going to be tight," Correia said. "Now just have complete confidence that that's not a lead that's going to hold against us now."

Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for his 21st save. Garrett Jones added two hits for Pittsburgh, which has its best record through 81 games since Barry Bonds was swinging for the fences at Three Rivers Stadium 20 years ago.

"You get here for a reason, it just doesn't happen," Hurdle said. "No one hits you with a wand and you end up in this spot. It hasn't been all high fives and walk-offs and giggles. There was some gnashing of teeth."

Not on Independence Day.

The Pirates found a way to solve Houston rookie Dallas Keuchel (1-1), one of the team's few bright spots of late. The left-hander was shipped to Triple-A Oklahoma City after the game so the team can bring up a reliever to help out a weary bullpen.

Mills stressed the decision has nothing to do with performance. Keuchel gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, or one more run than he surrendered in his previous three starts combined.

"I knew if I got the first three guys out consistently I would have a good shot and I made some bad pitches to the bottom of the order and they made me pay," Keuchel said after his ERA rose from 1.35 to 2.45.

J.D. Martinez hit his 10th home run for Houston, while Scott Moore and Brian Bogusevic each had two hits, though it couldn't stop Houston from continuing its slide. The Astros are 10-26 since moving within a game of .500 on May 25.

Mills, clearly frustrated, removed center fielder Jordan Schafer from the game in the second inning after a pair of fundamental mistakes. His offline throw allowed the plodding Jones to turn a single into a double. Schafer later threw to the wrong base on sacrifice fly by McKenry, allowing two runners to move up and help the Pirates turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

"I just felt that [Schafer's] play and behavior didn't match what we needed to get done," Mills said.

Pittsburgh pushed it to 4-2 on McKenry's RBI-double in the fourth and the Pirates -- who won on Drew Sutton's walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth on Tuesday -- made sure no such heroics were required.

Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 3 to keep his NL-leading batting average at .360 while Alvarez continued to show signs that he's developing into the elite slugger the franchise envisioned when it selected him with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. Alvarez had a two-run pinch-hit single during the comeback victory on Tuesday and his two-run single in the seventh gave the Pirates a cushion after the Astros pulled within 4-3.

"You're seeing a guy finding his rhythm and his confidence," Hurdle said of Alvarez. "To do that on a breaking ball from a left-hander, it was a very pretty swing."

Notes

  • The series will conclude on Thursday as Pittsburgh's Jeff Karstens (1-2, 5.25 ERA) faces Houston's Bud Norris (5-5, 4.90)
  • The Astros haven't won on July 4 since beating the Cubs in 2006
  • Pittsburgh reliever Jason Grilli tossed a scoreless eighth inning while making his 300th major league appearance.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Andrew McCutchen (left) and Neil Walker celebrate after scoring on Pedro Alvarez's single in the seventh inning. (Getty Images)
Andrew McCutchen (left) and Neil Walker celebrate after scoring on Pedro Alvarez's single in the seventh inning. (Getty Images)

Players of the Game
Pittsburgh

P. Alvarez
AB 2
R 1
H 1
HR 0
RBI 2
Houston

J. Martinez
AB 4
R 1
H 2
HR 1
RBI 1
 
Houston Astros
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Jordan Schafer, CF2000012 .236
    Brian Bixler, RF-SS3010001 .254
Jose Altuve, 2B4011000 .303
Jed Lowrie, SS3000103 .255
    David Carpenter, P0000000 .500
    Fernando Abad, P0000000 .000
Carlos Lee, 1B3110001 .287
    Matt Downs, 1B1000000 .170
Scott Moore, 3B-RF4120000 .368
Jason Castro, C3001010 .250
J.D. Martinez, LF4121001 .239
Brian Bogusevic, RF-CF3121100 .223
Dallas Keuchel, P1000000 .000
    Fernando Rodriguez, P0000000 .000
   a- Chris Johnson, PH-3B2000011 .278
Totals3349423  
a-struck out for F. Rodriguez in the 7th
Batting
HR - J.D. Martinez (11, Hanrahan)
SF - Jason Castro (2)
SH - Dallas Keuchel (1)
RBI - Jose Altuve (25), Jason Castro (18), J.D. Martinez (48), Brian Bogusevic (21)
SB - Jose Altuve (13, 2nd base off Lincoln/McKenry), Brian Bogusevic (9, 2nd base off Lincoln/McKenry)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
Outfield Assists - J.D. Martinez 1
E - Matt Downs (3, Misplayed grounder)
Houston Astros
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Dallas Keuchel (L,1-1) 5.2744420 2.45
Fernando Rodriguez 0.1000000 6.39
David Carpenter 0.1222000 6.07
Fernando Abad 1.2100020 2.95
IBB - A. McCutchen by Dallas Keuchel
Pitches-Strikes - Dallas Keuchel 99-59, Fernando Rodriguez 3-3, David Carpenter 7-5, Fernando Abad 31-22
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Dallas Keuchel 5-9, Fernando Rodriguez 1-0, Fernando Abad 1-3
Batters Faced - Dallas Keuchel 27, Fernando Rodriguez 1, David Carpenter 3, Fernando Abad 7
Pittsburgh Pirates
HittersABRHRBIBBSOLOBAVG
Drew Sutton, LF4010012 .316
    Brad Lincoln, P0000000 .111
    Jason Grilli, P0000000 .000
   a- Josh Harrison, PH1000000 .217
    Joel Hanrahan, P0000000 .000
Neil Walker, 2B5110001 .275
Andrew McCutchen, CF3110100 .360
Casey McGehee, 1B3100114 .245
Garrett Jones, RF4220002 .275
Pedro Alvarez, 3B2112200 .237
Michael McKenry, C3022012 .247
Clint Barmes, SS4011015 .204
Kevin Correia, P2000002 .167
   b- Eric Fryer, PH1010000 .500
    Gorkys Hernandez, LF1000000 .143
Totals33610544  
a-flied out for Grilli in the 8th
b-singled for Correia in the 6th
Batting
2B - Drew Sutton (8, Keuchel), Garrett Jones (12, Keuchel), Michael McKenry (6, Keuchel)
SF - Michael McKenry (3)
RBI - Pedro Alvarez 2 (48), Michael McKenry 2 (17), Clint Barmes (21)
Team LOB - 8
Fielding
DP - Walker-Barmes-McGehee
Pittsburgh Pirates
PitchersIPHRERBBSOHRERA
Kevin Correia (W,5-6) 6633210 4.34
Brad Lincoln (H,2) 1200010 3.14
Jason Grilli (H,20) 1000010 1.93
Joel Hanrahan (S,21) 1111001 2.53
Pitches-Strikes - Kevin Correia 82-49, Brad Lincoln 23-17, Jason Grilli 10-7, Joel Hanrahan 10-8
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Kevin Correia 7-9, Brad Lincoln 1-1, Joel Hanrahan 2-1
Batters Faced - Kevin Correia 25, Brad Lincoln 5, Jason Grilli 3, Joel Hanrahan 4
Game Information
Attendance - 36827
Game Time - 3:08
Temperature - 89
Umpires - Home - Phil Cuzzi, First Base - Manny Gonzalez, Second Base - Greg Gibson, Third Base - Gerry Davis