KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The ball looked as if it was a harmless pop-up.
Problem is, there’s no such thing for the Houston Astros these days.
When the ball hit shortstop Tyler Greene’s glove, one of Greene’s teammates hit him. The ball fell to the ground, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates a pair of insurance runs and the Astros another dose of embarrassment in a 6-2 loss.
“That’s a fly ball I should have,” Greene said. “I just think we had just maybe a, you know, guys in different spots, maybe some miscommunication, but that’s my responsibility being the shortstop out there. I’ve got to take charge, take control of what’s going on.”
Jordan Lyles (3-11) gave up five runs — four earned — in 4 2-3 innings for Houston, which failed to win consecutive games for just the second time since the All-Star break.
“The whole night, the curveball wasn’t there for me,” Lyles said. “I think it comes down to delivery. I’ve got to work on being better out of the stretch, and tonight it wasn’t there.”
Andrew McCutchen had his major league-leading sixth four-hit game for Pittsburgh and rookie second baseman Brock Holt added four hits to help former Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez (10-13) win for the third time in his past four starts.
“Beating this team is very special for me because I played for the Astros for a long time,” Rodriguez said. “When the game started, I don’t have any friends.”
Rodriguez is making some in Pittsburgh, which came in losers in 10 of its previous 13, including a 5-1 setback to the Astros on Monday.
The veteran left-hander helped his new team bounce back by keeping Houston in check. Rodriguez allowed four hits in seven shutout innings, walking one and striking out seven to lower his ERA to 3.71.
“Wandy was a guy we needed to be on and he was,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “After the first inning, very rhythmic, very in tempo, very in sync.”
McCutchen has been slumping of late, coinciding with Pittsburgh’s dip in the standings. He batted .252 in August after a red-hot July in which he hit .446 to fuel the Pirates’ rise to playoff contention.
The All-Star center fielder snapped out of it in a big way while boosting his average to .347, moving ahead of suspended San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera for the best in baseball, though McCutchen insists he’s paying no attention to the race for the batting title. There’s too much work to be done for the Pirates.
“That will take care of itself,” McCutchen said. “I just need to do what I do here. That’s coming out and playing hard. That’s all I can worry about.”
Rodriguez looked a little shaky early on following a 75-minute rain delay. Jose Altuve singled to lead off the game then stole second. Justin Maxwell walked with two outs, but Jason Castro grounded to short and from there Rodriguez cruised. Houston never got a runner to third over Rodriguez’s final six innings.
Lyles wasn’t so fortunate.
McCutchen put the Pirates up 1-0 in the first on an RBI double. Two innings later he gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead when he singled home Holt. Garrett Jones followed with an RBI single to make it 3-0.
Pittsburgh added three more in the fifth as the worst team in baseball committed a costly mistake.
Holt doubled with one out and came home on a McCutchen single one batter later. Fernando Rodriguez relieved Lyles and after a walk to Jones got Pedro Alvarez to pop up to the left of second base.
Seconds later the ball was on the ground and the Astros were finished.
“They kind of semi-collided and it might have jarred him a little bit,” Houston interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “We’re hoping he catches that ball. It’s two runs. (If he does) we’re still in the ballgame late in the game.” NOTES: Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker is on track for a possible return by the weekend. Walker hasn’t played since Aug. 26 due to a balky back … Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez was the NL Player of the Week after going 11 for 24 (.458) with four home runs .. The series wraps on Wednesday. Houston’s Fernando Abad (0-2, 4.83 ERA) faces Pittsburgh’s Kevin Correia (9-8, 4.40).