A late-season surge has moved the Houston Astros back into postseason contention, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Houston (77-67) has won 11 of its last 12 contests, and that successful stretch has the club fourth in the NL wild-card standings—just five games back of slumping Milwaukee with 18 remaining.
The Astros also have won six straight at Minute Maid Park, opening a seven-game homestand with a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh (60-83) on Monday.
Pinch-hitter Mark Saccomanno—called up from Triple-A Round Rock earlier in the day to help fill in for injured third baseman Ty Wigginton—homered on the first major league pitch he saw to key a three-run fifth inning for the Astros, who have won three in a row to move a season-high 10 games over .500.
“Everybody’s contributing,” manager Cecil Cooper told the Astros’ official Web site. “We had five straight base hits with two outs. That’s what this is all about.”
Like his team, Wolf (9-11, 4.47 ERA) has been experiencing a resurgence since he was acquired in a trade from San Diego on July 22.
Houston has won seven of the eight starts he has made for the club, and he is 3-1 with a 3.80 ERA in that span. He is coming off of his best outing in that stretch, pitching a six-hitter and fanning eight in a 4-0 road win over the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.
The left-hander needed 128 pitches to post his eighth career shutout and first since April 24, 2004, as a member of Philadelphia.
“I had (relievers warming up), but he said he wanted it,” Cooper told the Astros’ site. “Anytime we’re in a situation with a guy like that, we’re going to let him have it. (Wednesday), he was magnificent.”
Wolf will try to keep things going for Houston, which beat Pittsburgh for just the third time in 10 meetings this season.
He is 5-1 with a 3.61 ERA in eight career starts versus the Pirates, though he hasn’t faced them since earning a 5-4 victory on July 1, 2007 in Pittsburgh with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Pirates, losers of three straight, have fallen to 3-4 on their 10-game road swing. They are just 3-14 since Aug. 20, losing eight of 11 road games in that stretch.
Looking to end those struggles, Pittsburgh hands the ball to Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 4.50), who pitched well in his first career start on Wednesday despite leaving without a decision. He gave up three earned runs and seven hits over six innings of a 6-5 victory at Cincinnati.
“I really liked his aggressiveness,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “I also liked his ability to slow the ball down.”
Ohlendorf, acquired as part of the July 26 deal that sent outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees, has allowed a run and two hits over two innings of relief in two career appearances—both this season — against the Astros.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson—sidelined for the last seven games—will likely miss the rest of the season due to a hairline fracture in his right index finger. However, he will not be placed on the disabled list as the team hopes he’ll be available as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.
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