Astros nail down much-needed win
Team effort helps Houston top Pittsburgh in series finale
PITTSBURGH -- The Astros have endured a little bit of everything this road trip -- long rain delays, extra innings and loss after loss.
On Wednesday, they changed things up a bit, beating the Pirates without the interruption of dark, ominous skies, or 17-inning marathons or heartbreaking setbacks in the wee hours of the next morning.
Instead, they received a well-pitched game, timely hits from the lineup and a valiant effort from two relievers to top the Pirates, 6-4.
"You don't want to say you're desperate for a win in the middle of the season," said Geoff Blum. "But I think a win was pretty necessary, considering the way things have been going, with a 17-inning game, rain delays and five-hour losses."
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and allowed the Astros to breathe a little easier after suffering through a 1-4 start to the road trip. The players understand that one win isn't going to save the season, but they also know they have to start somewhere, especially now that they're all by themselves at the bottom of the National League Central standings.
"I think we're going to be playing a series of must-win games," Lance Berkman said. "It's getting to be the time of year where we either have to fish or cut bait, and we better start fishing."
Blum, making his first start of the year at shortstop in place of the resting Miguel Tejada, did his part to make sure this game started off well. The veteran infielder got things rolling with a three-run homer on the first offering from John Van Benschoten, doing most of the damage through the Astros' four-run first inning.
"I've had plenty of opportunities," Blum joked. "I'm glad I came through with one of them."
The home run, Blum's sixth this year, arrived with two outs in the inning and scored Berkman, who was hit by a pitch, and Carlos Lee, who walked.
"I was looking for a fastball away, but he left it like middle down, and that's obviously a good place for a left-hander to drive the ball in, especially in this ballpark," Blum said. "You don't see too many pitches on the inner half because of that short fence in right field. It worked out pretty good."
The Astros' lead didn't last long, however. The Bucs slowly chipped away, beginning in the second, when Xavier Nady led off with a triple off Brian Moehler and scored on a groundout by Adam LaRoche.
Nate McLouth knocked a one-out double off Moehler in the third and scored on a hit by Ryan Doumit. Jason Bay followed with a double to center, driving in Pittsburgh's third run.
The Pirates tied it in the fifth when Freddy Sanchez drove in McLouth with a sacrifice fly. The Astros, however, scratched across two runs in the seventh with timely hitting and a little luck.
Michael Bourn led off with a bunt single, and he moved to second on Brad Ausmus' sacrifice bunt. Mark Loretta, hitting in the pitcher's spot, bounced a ground ball just a few feet from the plate and reached when Doumit opted to throw to third base. Bourn arrived to third in plenty of time, which put runners at first and third for Hunter Pence, who drove in Bourn with a groundout to third.
Kazuo Matsui, in his first game back since spending more than two weeks on the disabled list, doubled home Loretta, pushing the Astros ahead by two.
"Kaz was big for us," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "He's always been a spark for us. The last time he came back from his injury, he was a big spark for us. Tonight he got two big base hits, and that last one was really huge for us."
Chris Sampson pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Moehler, and Jose Valverde held the Bucs down in the ninth to secure his 23rd save.
"We came through with a couple runs there and took advantage of Doumit throwing that ball to third base," Berkman said. "Then the bullpen came in and did a tremendous job. All the way around, it was a good team win and one that we really needed."
And one that came as a relief to all involved.
"It was definitely a good feeling to finally get a win here," Cooper said. "We played awfully hard the last three days -- the last day in Atlanta and the two days here. Just long days. It was really good to finally get a win."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.