Pirates 5, Astros 2

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Houston Astros came into Pittsburgh as baseball’s hottest team. They’re threatening to leave town as one of the coldest.

Jason Bay homered and drove in four runs and Ryan Vogelsong limited Houston to one run over six innings in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 victory Saturday—the Astros’ third loss in four games following a 12-game winning streak.

Houston fell a game behind Chicago in the NL wild-card race as the Cubs beat Florida 5-2. The Astros are 1-3 in a five-game weekend series against the sub-.500 Pirates that wraps up Sunday night, scoring only four runs in the losses. They averaged nine runs during the winning streak.

So far, it hasn’t been a happy return to Pittsburgh for Astros manager Phil Garner, who starred at second base 25 years ago for the 1979 World Series champion Pirates.

“We’ve got to bounce back tomorrow. It’s very, very important going into St. Louis,” Garner said, looking ahead to his team’s next series. “We’ve got to get bats the cracking again, get that feeling going to score runs when he need to score runs.”

That hasn’t happened against the Pirates’ developing pitching staff. Oliver Perez struck out 14 during a 3-1 victory Thursday in the first game of a doubleheader, and former Pirates first-round draft pick John Van Benschoten gave up one run in eight innings for his first career victory, 5-1 on Friday.

Vogelsong, coming off a 9-5 loss to Milwaukee on Monday in which he allowed seven runs in 2 2-3 innings, struck out three, walked three and gave up five hits in six innings. He had lost five of six decisions, and was 0-7 in Pittsburgh since beating the Phillies 6-2 on April 8.

“It definitely was a good change, the way the season has gone for the most part,” Vogelsong said.

Despite the Pirates’ upgraded pitching, Jeff Bagwell agreed with his manager that Sunday is a must-win game for the Astros, especially with Roy Oswalt (17-9) pitching.

“We can’t come out of here losing four of five. That’s the bottom line,” Bagwell said. “As much as things worked out the last couple of weeks, the last couple of days they haven’t. We’ve got to correct that and keep coming up with those big hits again.”

Craig Biggio tried to do that by homering on Vogelsong’s second pitch of the game and driving in both Houston runs. Biggio’s 22nd homer tied a career high and extended his NL record to 40 homers leading off games.

But Vogelsong (5-12) settled down to beat the Astros for the second time in as many starts, allowing just one earned run in each. Salomon Torres followed with two scoreless innings before Mike Gonzalez got one out in the ninth ahead of back-to-back singles by Brad Ausmus and pinch-hitter Jason Alfaro.

Jose Mesa allowed an RBI single to Biggio before retiring the final two batters to pick up his 39th save in 44 opportunities.

“I thought the ninth would be the break-it-loose point,” Garner said. “We’ve been coming up with hits in those situations.”

Bay, a top contender for the NL Rookie of the Year award, hit a three-run homer in the first off Brandon Backe (3-3) and added an RBI double following Jason Kendall’s double in the fifth.

“You usually don’t get the opportunity to hit with as many men on base (10) as I did,” said Bay, who had five at-bats. “I didn’t get them all in, but I’m glad I got some of them in.”

Bay tied the Pirates rookie record of 23 homers, set by Johnny Rizzo in 1938 and matched by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner in 1946, and leads NL rookies in homers, RBIs (71), on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Pirates have never had an NL Rookie of the Year since the award was established in 1947, a year after Kiner’s big season.

Bay’s homer came after Kendall walked and left fielder Biggio dropped Jack Wilson’s fly ball to left for an error, sending Kendall to second. The night before, Biggio leaned into the stands to take a potential homer away from Bay.


Bay had been 1-for-13 since homering Tuesday against Milwaukee. … Despite the losses, Houston is 11-5 against Pittsburgh and has won 21 of 27 and 15 of 19 overall. … Backe made his fifth career start. He was coming off consecutive victories. … The Pirates played their second Saturday afternoon home game, neither scheduled. Saturday’s game was moved to avoid a conflict with Pitt’s football opener; an Aug. 28 game against St. Louis was moved for TV.

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