Late rally fells Astros
Bullpen allows three runs in eighth, wasting outing by Oswalt
HOUSTON -- The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates were in town, they took two out of three, and the next day, the Astros fired manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura.
The only casualty from the first game of this Pirates visit to southeast Texas, which resulted in a 4-3 Pittsburgh victory Friday night at Minute Maid Park, was the consecutive scoreless innings streak by the Houston bullpen, snapped at 16.
Other things haven't changed much. The Astros have gone 5-11 since the front office shakeup and the offense's .255 batting average with runners in scoring position -- the second worst in the league -- had another dreadful (2-for-13) night.
"This is definitely as bad as 2000, that was sort of my rookie year and I was pretty much overwhelmed by the whole experience, and I didn't take a lot of time to think about the team, but since I've been on the team and been playing for the Astros, this is certainly as bad as we've ever been," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said, "It's baffling because I look at our team, and the guys that we have that have track records and we're just not getting it done, bottom line, and I don't know why and I wish could tell you or the fans something but I can't. It just has not happened for us this year and it continues to not happen."
Astros interim manager Cecil Cooper praised Berkman, starter Roy Oswalt (seven innings, one unearned run), third baseman Ty Wigginton (two doubles) and rookie center fielder Josh Anderson (two hits) and blamed the squandered opportunities for the defeat that dropped the Astros a season-low 21 games under .500.
"Coming in tonight, we were like 0-for-23 [with runners in scoring position], that won't cut it anywhere," Cooper said.
The Pirates scored three times in the eighth, with Jose Bautista's two-run homer off the left-field foul pole off Chad Qualls (6-5) erasing what had been a 2-1 Houston lead.
Until that point, Oswalt had been in line for what have been his 15th victory after allowing an unearned run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 3.29, the sixth lowest in the league. The right-hander allowed six hits, struck out six and walked one.
Berkman's home run off Damaso Marte with one out broke up a tie game in the seventh. The first baseman has now reached 30 homers in a season five times, the second most in franchise history behind Jeff Bagwell (nine).
The Astros couldn't do much against Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell, and missed their best scoring opportunity in the third.
Anderson reached on an infield single -- his first career hit -- and two-out walks to Berkman and Luke Scott loaded the bases for Wigginton.
Wigginton scorched a Snell fastball to deep center field, where Pirates center fielder Nyjer Morgan ran it down just in front of the wall to the right of Tal's Hill. Morgan's incredible back-to-the-plate catch robbed Wigginton of at least a three-run double.
"That's the game," Cooper said. "That's probably the best catch I've seen this year. If he doesn't make that catch, we get three and that might even be the back-breaker because Roy was on."
Oswalt said, " [It was]a great catch. One of the best catches I've seen here. [He] made a real good over-the-head catch and probably saved the ballgame right there."
Oswalt's teammates certainly thought so.
"That ball is hit 420 feet, and is a home run in 99 percent of the parks in the Major Leagues, [and] is a grand slam and we give [Oswalt] a 4-1 lead and we don't even worry about it the rest of the time," Berkman said. "I think we win that game easy. But the guy makes a great catch."
Anderson drove in Cody Ransom with another base hit in the eighth for the Astros' final run and his first career RBI.
"The ball comes off his bat good," Cooper said of Anderson. "He's swinging the bat well, he's going to play again tomorrow, he's an exciting young player, [he's] got the right approach, goes the other way, that's what you do. He's going to play tomorrow, maybe beyond tomorrow."
The rookie finished 2-for-5 on the night.
"Unbelievable, indescribable, the feeling," Anderson said. "I've waited, it seems like an eternity to get here. I'll never forget this day."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.