Astros 7-1 win hurts Pirates fading playoff hopes

Associated Press Published: September 21, 2012

HOUSTON (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates came to Houston hoping to turn things around after a three-game sweep by the Brewers.

Instead they opened a three-game series with the last-place Astros on Friday night with a disheartening 7-1 loss, further dampening their already dim postseason hopes.

The Pirates couldn't find much offense as they lost their fourth straight game to fall to six games back for the second NL wild card spot. They've lost 16 of their last 20 games in this late-season swoon to fall to 74-76 and increase the possibility of a 20th straight losing season, which would extend their major North American professional sports record.

Things looked good for the Pirates on Aug. 8 when they were 63-47, a season-best 16 games over .500.

"When you don't get the results you want and you don't run the bases, it doesn't look good," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes the game can look heavy on you. That's when I have to make sure I am getting the effort and the attitude we need. We are, but we just aren't getting the results come game time."

Houston starter Edgar Gonzalez lasted just 1 2-3 innings before leaving with a strained right hamstring. That forced the Astros to use six different relievers to cobble together the rest of the game. The bullpen combined to fan 11 and allow six hits. Fernando Rodriguez (2-10) struck out four in 3 1-3 innings for the win.

"They came in there and brought in one of their better relievers," Pirates catcher Michael McKenry said. "He did a great job. He was able to fill up the zone and got early contact and able to pitch three innings. They did a good job of matching it up and played it to their advantage."

Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke (0-2) yielded three hits and three runs with a career-high eight strikeouts in five innings. He is 0-5 in eight career major league starts.

"After the home run in the first inning, I felt I settled down," Locke said. "I was able to command my pitches better. The curveball was more effective than any other outing this year."

Garrett Jones allowed the Pirates to avoid a shutout with his solo homer off Rhiner Cruz in the eighth inning.

Brandon Barnes singled to right field before Maxwell drew a two-out walk in the first inning. Lowrie followed with his 15th homer and first since June 26, a shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field. He was on the disabled list from July 15 to Sept. 12 with an injured nerve in his right leg.

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