LaRoche, his average down to .092, grounded a game-winning single into left field in the 16th inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth to beat Houston 4-3 Wednesday night, the Astros’ fifth consecutive loss.
LaRoche had been 0-for-18 at PNC Park before his grounder barely got past shortstop Adam Everett to score Jack Wilson, who reached on a force play ahead of Jose Bautista’s single—only the third Pirates hit since the eighth inning— and an intentional walk to Jason Bay.
“The last at-bat, to be honest, I looked out there and saw that hole— they’ve been playing me to pull—and I said, `I’m not even going to swing hard, I’m going to try to hit that hole over there and just roll something through it,’ ” LaRoche said. “Somehow, as bad as it’s been going, it worked out.”
Except for one thing—that unfilled desire of his to pitch in the majors.
“That’s the disappointing part, I was really looking forward to pitching,” said LaRoche, a former college pitcher and the son of former major league pitcher Dave LaRoche. “Maybe another chance will come up.”
John Wasdin (1-1), the eighth Pirates pitcher, won it with two scoreless relief innings. Brian Moehler (0-1) took the loss as Houston outhit the Pirates 16-10 but stranded 18 runners—eight in extra innings.
“We played so hard, it’s very disappointing,” manager Phil Garner said. “We battled so hard, we got 16 hits but we couldn’t get one when we needed one. We’ve got to come up with that big hit and close that game out.”
The Pirates took a 3-1 lead into the ninth after Zach Duke limited the Astros to six hits over seven innings, one night after they were held to three hits by Paul Maholm in a 3-0 Pirates victory. But closer Salomon Torres blew a save for the third time in his last five attempts as Houston tied it on two infield hits, second baseman Jose Castillo’s throwing error and RBI singles by Brad Ausmus and Craig Biggio.
Still, the Astros lost their fifth straight to Pittsburgh—the first time since 1991 they’ve dropped that many in a row to the Pirates. The Astros stranded seven runners in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings.
“It was just a bad loss, a tough loss,” Morgan Ensberg said. “I had the bases loaded a couple of times and couldn’t get it done. It was just frustrating.”
The Astros also lost a pitcher—right-hander Rick White pulled a muscle near his left rib cage while warming up to pitch in the ninth and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday.
For some reason, the two teams consistently play long games at PNC Park, even factoring in their Tuesday night game that lasted only 1 hours, 57 minutes. They played an 18-inning game at PNC Park last season, an 8-7 Pirates victory on May 27. They also played a 15-inning game there on Sept. 27, a 7-6 Houston victory, and had a game delayed by rain for more than 3 1/2 hours the following day before Houston won 3-0.
“Those innings wear on you, you’re watching the clock, the West Coast games are getting over with, and it’s hard to stay locked in,” LaRoche said. “To lose those, I don’t want to say it sets you back as a team, but it hurts when you know you’ve battled that hard for that long and come out with nothing.”
After the Astros were limited to three singles by Maholm, Garner joked his team would take batting practice “for seven hours” before Wednesday’s game. Instead, it seemed they nearly played that long—the time of game was 4:48.
The Pirates had only four hits in six innings against Houston rookie starter Matt Albers, but turned them into three runs. Brad Eldred ended an 0-for-17 streak since homering April 8 in Cincinnati with a line-drive home run into the left field bleachers, making it 3-1 in the fifth.
The inning before, the Pirates took a 2-1 lead on Bay’s run-scoring groundout and LaRoche’s sacrifice fly.
The game ended little more than 12 hours before the teams finish the three-game series with an afternoon game Thursday.
“We might as well stay here and play it right now,” Garner said.
Houston’s Craig Biggio had three hits, giving him five in the series and 2,951 in his career. … Pittsburgh is 4-10 against the rest of the NL. … The game started on time despite nearly daylong rain showers. The temperature was 46, the fifth time in Pittsburgh’s six home games it was in the 40s or lower. … 2B Freddy Sanchez was lifted from the Pirates’ original lineup after having debris from his right eye removed by a doctor. With Sanchez out, Bautista batted third for the first time with Pittsburgh and ran his hitting streak to 12 games. … Ensberg returned after not starting Tuesday because of a sore left ankle.