Bucs move past .500 with victory in Houston
HOUSTON — Xavier Paul went into the game in the sixth inning Wednesday, but still nearly hit for the cycle.
It was that kind of night — finally — for the Pirates, who found their offense in the later innings and routed the Houston Astros, 7-3.
The Pirates (34-33) scored three runs in the sixth inning and two more in the seventh to overcome a 3-2 deficit. They banged out 14 hits, two shy of their season high. Among the six extra-base hits were Neil Walker's RBI triple and Paul's two-run homer.
"We just kept fighting," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Paul entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-hitter. He went 3 for 3, getting opposite-field hits in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings. In a way, Paul was happy to end up a triple short of the cycle.
"If I had gotten another at-bat, then things wouldn't have been going right for us," Paul said, grinning. "To have a big game off the bench and we win the game, it's a great feeling."
The seven runs matched the Pirates' output over their previous four games. They hadn't scored seven runs in a single game since an 8-5 victory against Arizona on June 7.
Going into the game, the Pirates ranked last in the National League in hits and next-to-last in runs scored and team batting average (.239).
"Three or four guys have taken nice steps forward in the past few games," Hurdle said. "And we've got some guys who are still working."
Right-hander Charlie Morton (7-3) picked up the win, although he wasn't especially sharp. Morton worked five innings — throwing 109 pitches, his second-highest total of the season — and allowed three runs on eight hits, walked two and struck out three.
"Pretty mediocre," Morton said. "The offense picked me up. When the guys go off like that, it's fun to watch."
It was the second straight so-so outing for Morton, who gave up seven runs in four innings in his previous start against the New York Mets. Over his past three starts, Morton's ERA has inched up from a sparkling 2.51 to a still-very-respectable 3.21.
"It's been a grind the past five or six starts for me," Morton said.
The Pirates trailed 3-2 when Paul pinch-hit for Morton with one out in the sixth. They wound up scoring three runs off reliever Enerio Del Rosario (0-1).
Paul doubled and went to third on Jose Tabata's hard-slap single to left. Garrett Jones' pinch-hit single scored Paul and sent Tabata to third.
Andrew McCutchen grounded to first base. Tabata scored and Brett Wallace's throw to the plate bounced away from the catcher. Jones went to third on the error and scored an insurance run when Walker flew out to left.
Paul smacked a two-run homer in the seventh, launching a high fastball into the Crawford Boxes in left field. It was his first long ball since May 15, 2009, snapping a dry spell of 215 at-bats.
"It's been a long time," Paul said. "I had no idea it was going to carry out. I squared it up, hit it on the barrel and it kept going and going."
A pair of hits by Walker helped the Pirates construct a 2-0 lead against left-hander J.A. Happ.
Andrew McCutchen walked with two outs in the first inning. Walker lofted a run-scoring triple into the right field corner.
In the third, Matt Diaz doubled and scored on Walker's line-drive single to center.
A two-out hit enabled the Astros (25-44) to break through in the third against Morton.
Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger began the inning with back-to-back singles. Morton struck out Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee.
Brett Wallace lashed a 1-2 sinker over the head of third baseman Brandon Wood for an RBI single.
The inning almost got out of hand when Wood booted the ball trying to backhand Chris Johnson's bouncer. With the bases loaded, Wood handled Clint Barmes' chopper and barely beat Wallace to third base for the final out.
A gritty, nine-pitch at-bat by J.R. Towles — he was nearly hit by a pitch, then fouled the next one off his ankle — paid off with a leadoff walk. Towles was bunted to second, then scored on Bourn's single to tie it at 2.
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