It’s been 14 years since the Pittsburgh Pirates have been this close to first place this late in the season. It’s been even longer since the club was five games above .500 this deep into the schedule.
Another game against the major league-worst Houston Astros could help the Pirates continue their push up the standings.
Pittsburgh goes for its fourth straight victory and eighth in a row in this NL Central matchup Wednesday night in the series finale at PNC Park.
Entering this season with a major North American professional sports record 18 straight losing seasons, the Pirates (45-41) aren’t just making a strong push to end that skid - they’ve moved one-half game ahead of Milwaukee for second place and trail division-leading St. Louis by 1 1/2.
This is the closest the Pirates have been to first this late in the season since they were 1 1/2 back of Houston on Sept. 2, 1997. The last time Pittsburgh was this far above .500 at this point was 1992, when it finished 96-66 and won its third straight NL East crown.
“We’re having a blast,” Brandon Wood(notes) said after hitting a two-run homer and driving in three runs in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory. “I haven’t been here too long, but hearing from some of the guys, they haven’t seen games like this in a long time. So we’re going to try to keep banging it.”
Pittsburgh, winner of 12 of 18 at PNC Park, goes for its fifth straight victory at home over the Astros (29-58) with Charlie Morton(notes) (7-4, 3.63 ERA) on the mound. The right-hander gets the ball on normal rest after making his last start following a 10-day break between outings due to fatigue. Morton is 5 1-3 innings shy of a career high (97) set in 2009.
“It’s not like I missed a month and came back,” he said after giving up one run in 5 2-3 innings in Friday’s 2-1 loss at Washington.
Morton is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts against Houston this season. He went 7 2-3 innings and allowed one run in a 6-1 home win over the Astros on May 7.
Bud Norris(notes) (4-6, 3.51), who struck out nine and went seven innings in that defeat, takes the ball as the Astros try to avoid their first six-game skid since an 0-8 stretch April 27-May 4, 2010.
The right-hander is looking to build off a solid effort in Friday’s 7-5 loss to Boston. He fanned 10 and had a one-hitter through six innings, but he did not record an out in the seventh when the Red Sox scored six times.
Norris has struck out 18 and walked four in two losses to against Pittsburgh this season, with the Astros providing him one run of support in those games.
Pence, batting .410 (16 for 39) during a 10-game hitting streak, is 38 for 83 (.458) with four homers and 17 RBIs in his last 22 games versus Pittsburgh.
He has three hits in 15 at-bats against Morton.