Pirates 6, Astros 5
When Drew Sutton reached third base in the ninth inning with the game tied, he told Pittsburgh third base coach Nick Leyva that Houston's Xavier Cedeno might bounce a curveball after seeing how much break it had on it earlier in the inning.
Cedeno did just that on the next pitch and Sutton was ready, dashing home on the wild pitch to propel the Pirates to a 6-5 win over the hapless Houston Astros on Friday night.
''When guys have big breaking balls like that sometimes they have the tendency to overthrow them in big situations and you've just got to take advantage,'' Sutton said. ''In a close game like that it usually comes down to little stuff like that and I'm glad I thought about it, the pitch, before. I got a good break on it and it worked out.''
The loss was Houston's 11th straight, tying the franchise record for most consecutive losses in a season. The Astros, who have baseball's worst record (34-67), last lost 11 straight in 1995. They have lost 24 of their last 26 games.
''We have to (be level-headed),'' Houston's Chris Johnson said. ''If you get down, it's just going to get worse.''
The Astros led 5-4 entering the ninth inning before rookie Starling Marte's bases-loaded sacrifice fly tied it up, and the wild pitch got away from catcher Chris Snyder to allow Sutton to score and extend Houston's misery.
It was the third time in the last four games that Houston has lost after entering the ninth inning with a lead.
''Having the lead in three of the last four games is tough, there's no doubt,'' Astros manager Brad Mill said. ''And it beats up on everybody, but these guys have been battling so well all the way through, and I'm sure they're going to come out tomorrow and do the same thing.''
Tony Watson (5-1) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win and Joel Hanrahan did the same in the ninth for his major league-leading 31st save.
Alex Presley hit a solo home run for Pittsburgh in the fourth and Michael McKenry, who finished with three hits, connected on a two-run shot in the fifth.
Johnson finished a single short of the cycle and Ben Francisco had a solo homer and drove in two runs for the Astros.
The game was tied at 4-all when Johnson tripled on a ball that rolled up the corner of Tal's Hill in center field with no outs in the seventh. J.D. Martinez's one-out grounder to left field sent Johnson home to put Houston on top.
Johnson doubled in the first inning and had a solo homer in the third before his seventh-inning triple. Johnson walked in the fifth inning, but struck out in his last at-bat in the eighth.
Rhiner Cruz (1-1) came in for Houston with one out in the ninth inning. McKenry singled before Cruz issued consecutive walks to load the bases for Marte's sacrifice fly off Cedeno.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle thought his team's work in the ninth inning showed maturity.
''Being focused, being ready (and) we took advantage of some opportunities,'' he said. ''But the smart at-bats at the end paid us dividends and I'm not so sure that we would have executed as well early in the season in that type of game.''
Houston starter Jordan Lyles allowed seven hits and four runs while tying a career-high with eight strikeouts in six-plus innings.
McKenry doubled to start the seventh inning and chase Lyles. McKenry advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt before tying it at 4-4 on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Josh Harrison.
Pedro Alvarez singled to start the fifth before McKenry's shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field got the Pirates within 4-3.
Francisco hit the third straight single for the Astros in the second inning to drive in a run and put Houston up 1-0.
The Astros added a run in that inning when Justin Maxwell scored on Lyles' sacrifice bunt. The ball dribbled slightly down the right field line on the play and catcher McKenry came out to grab it. Maxwell evaded his tag and dove onto home plate to extend the lead to 2-0.
Johnson homered for the second straight game to leave Houston up 3-0 in the third inning.
The Pirates didn't get a hit until Presley's home run to right field with one out in the fourth inning made it 3-1.
Francisco's first home run as an Astro started Houston's fourth inning.
Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens yielded six hits and four runs with seven strikeouts in five innings. He allowed two home runs on Friday night after allowing just one in his previous eight starts this season.
The Astros had a chance to add to their lead when Karstens loaded the bases with three walks in the fifth inning, but he retired Francisco to escape the jam.
Astros reliever Wesley Wright had a busy eighth inning. He got the first out of the inning, before moving to right field while Wilton Lopez came on to pitch to Andrew McCutchen. Wright, who appeared in right field for the second time in his career, returned to the mound after a double by McCutchen and retired the next two batters to end the inning.
NOTES: The Pirates have homered in 17 straight road games, which is tied with Oakland for the longest streak in the majors. ... The Astros claimed RHP Chuckie Fick off waivers from St. Louis on Friday. ... Mike Scott, who won the Cy Young award with the Astros in 1986, threw out the first pitch on Friday night as part of the team's 50th anniversary celebration. ... Wandy Rodriguez, who was traded from the Astros to the Pirates on Tuesday, will start against his former team on Saturday in the third game of the four-game series.