HOUSTON -- A year ago, he was the focal point at the Pirates fulcrum, for all the wrong reasons. The Fort's fortunes have turned. On Friday night, Michael McKenry wasn't in the floodlights for the tag he had missed -- although this time he actually did miss Justin Maxwell on a key second-inning play. Twice, in fact.

This time, people wanted to talk to him about contributing three big hits to a 6-5 victory over the Astros that kept this Pirates season on the straightaway -- and only 366 days after his 19th-inning missed (at least according to umpire Jerry Meals) tag of Atlanta's Julio Lugo had sent the last Pirates season careening off the road.

McKenry doesn't have the most hits among the Bucs. As someone who starts maybe one game out of three, he couldn't. But the popular catcher may have as many big, game-changing knocks as anyone. The Pirates had four run-producing hits in Friday's win, and he ignited three of them: Homer in the fifth, double in the seventh, single in the ninth.

Those three hits improved McKenry's season take to nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 120 at-bats, with an OPS of .907. Eye-catching for a 27-year-old who entered this season with two homers and 11 RBIs in a total of 188 at-bats.

"A lot of hard work," said McKenry, who in Spring Training was rarely seen without a bat in his hands or a perspiration-stained shirt on his back, in trying to explain the improvement. "And then not trying to do too much. Just playing the game for what it is. I keep remembering something I was always told when I was younger: Remember what the ground smells like.

"Just go out and play. Too often, we try to make it into more than it is."

McKenry has earned a more integral role in the Pirates' scheme by taking huge advantage of an opportunity: Since a left-knee bruise to regular catcher Rod Barajas in late June made him a lineup fixture for a week, The Fort has hit .392, with six homers and 16 RBIs, in 17 games. The Pirates are 12-5 in those games.

Hanrahan aiming to be 40-40 man for Pirates

HOUSTON -- As a reporter approached him early Saturday afternoon in the visitors' clubhouse of Minute Maid Park, Joel Hanrahan, more bemused than upset, preempted any questioning by declaring, "I'm not getting traded."

This will come as comforting news to fans of the Pirates, who haven't actively considered dealing their closer anyway. This being Trade Deadline season however, Hanrahan's name had found its way into the craziness simply because he is a valuable entry in a rare commodity and other GMs are calling their Pittsburgh counterpart about relief help. That does not mean Neal Huntington has to listen.

So Hanrahan can look forward to opening a new frontier for Pittsburgh relief pitchers. With his Major League-leading 31 saves following up his 40-save season of 2011, he has already become only the second Pirates pitcher to post 30-plus in consecutive seasons, joining Kent Tekulve, who did it in 1978-79.

"It's not something you shoot for or have in mind," Hanrahan said. "But now that I'm there, it's nice company to be in.

"Has anyone put 40 back-to-back?"

Told no, that Tekulve had 31 saves each of those seasons and that there have been only two separate 40-save seasons in club history (Mike Williams' club record 46 in 2002, and Jose Mesa's 43 in 2004), Hanrahan said, "Well, I guess then that's next."

His last three saves had come consecutively in the Pirates' previous three games. As a result, he definitely was not in play for Saturday night's game.

"I'm surprised he's even at the park," said manager Clint Hurdle.

Worth noting

• In a Minor League deal, the Pirates acquired outfielder Christian Marrero from Atlanta in exchange for infielder Brian Friday. Marrero, a 25-year-old left-handed hitter, was hitting .248 in 79 games split between the Braves' Double-A and Triple-A clubs and will report to Indianapolis.

• A completely random observation: Friday night's game, a 6-5 Pittsburgh victory, was the Pirates' 28th (out of 99) in which either the winning or losing side scored five runs. Had the Astros been able to hold onto the 5-4 lead they took into the ninth, it would've been the Bucs' 15th game of the season with that final score.

• Lefty Tony Watson's five relief wins tie him with Colorado's Rex Brothers for the most in the National League. Cleveland's Joe Smith has the most relief wins in the Majors, with seven.

• The Bucs' 19 comeback wins from deficits of two-or-more runs lead the Majors. But here's the boldface part: 11 of those have been in away games; in 2009-11, the Pirates had a total of 10 such wins.

• Former Pirates outfielder Steve Pearce was claimed on waivers from Baltimore by Houston on Saturday, and is expected to join the Astros in time for Sunday's finale of the four-game series. In three Interleague Games on June 12-14, Pearce went 5-for-12 against the Bucs, with a homer and six RBIs.

Last word
"Did you ever think you'd have that conversation with me this year?"
- Manager Clint Hurdle, when asked whether the Pirates, who in their season-opening hush had entered June with 38 homers and have loudly hit 74 since, were becoming dependent on the long ball.