Lance Berkman hit his 20th homer and drove in five runs as Houston built an eight-run lead before holding off last-place Pittsburgh 12-8 on Wednesday.
The Astros won for the seventh time in eight games, averaging six runs per contest during that span. They remain two games in front of Philadelphia in the wild-card race. The Phillies beat Atlanta 10-6 in 10 innings on Wednesday.
Berkman hit a three-run homer in a four-run first inning and Mike Lamb hit a three-run shot in a four-run second as the Astros moved 14 games above .500 (83-69) for the first time this season.
“It was nice for us to keep the offense going, keep tacking on runs through the ninth,” said Jason Lane, who also homered among his three hits. “It was nice to see because a lot of guys chipped in.”
Willy Taveras continued to spark the Astros in his return to the lineup after being out with an injured finger since Sept. 13. He reclaimed the leadoff spot and went 3-for-6 with two runs scored.
After losing four of the first five meetings with Pittsburgh this year, the Astros have won two straight against the Pirates to take the lead in the season series (8-7). They will try to win their sixth straight season series against the Pirates, and improve to 7-1 in their last eight games at PNC Park.
“These guys are unbelievable. They fight you right down to the end,” said Berkman of the Pirates, who are percentage points behind Colorado for the worst record in the NL. “They’ve played us real tough this year. Every time we come in here I say, ‘How in the world are these guys in last place?”’
Pittsburgh’s rookie phenom Zach Duke looks to bounce back from his first loss in 11 major league starts.
The 22-year-old left-hander allowed one run and five hits in four innings of an 8-2 loss to Cincinnati on Friday in his first outing since spraining his left ankle on Aug. 23. He fell to 6-1 with a 1.84 ERA.
“He threw 74 pitches and hadn’t pitched in a while, so we just decided to be careful,” Pittsburgh interim manager Pete Mackanin said. “He looked very good for a guy who hasn’t pitched in three weeks.”