Two months ago, an early two-run deficit would have had the Pittsburgh Pirates scrambling.
Now, it’s just a blip. And for the moment, so is nearly two decades of losing.
Mike McKenry and Pedro Alvarez drove in two runs apiece and the Pirates looked pretty comfortable during their first day in first place, beating the Houston Astros 6-4 on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh has won seven of eight to improve to 45-36 at the season’s midway point, looking very much like a team that could stick around through the summer.
“This stretch that we’ve had is awesome but I think this is very indicative of this ballclub,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “We knew the bats were going to start coming around, and when we did we knew we were going to score a lot of runs.”
Kevin Correia (5-6) will happily take the help. The 31-year-old pitched well early in the season but struggled to win as the offense limped out of the gate. Correia wasn’t terribly sharp at muggy PNC Park but overcame a shaky start to give up three runs on six hits in six innings, walking two and striking out one to win at home against a National League team for the first time since joining the Pirates before the 2011 season.
The Astros touched Correia for two runs in the second, but the hole lasted all of 15 minutes before Pittsburgh — which rallied from a four-run deficit to win on Tuesday — roared back to take the lead.
“Normally the first month of the season, you give two runs early and you know it’s going to be tight,” Correia said. “Now just have complete confidence that that’s not a lead that’s going to hold against us now.”
Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for his 21st save. Garrett Jones added two hits for Pittsburgh, which has its best record through 81 games since Barry Bonds was swinging for the fences at Three Rivers Stadium 20 years ago.
“You get here for a reason, it just doesn’t happen,” Hurdle said. “No one hits you with a wand and you end up in this spot. It hasn’t been all hi-fives and walk-offs and giggles. There was some gnashing of teeth.”
Not on Independence Day.
The Astros limped to their seventh straight loss, and major changes are in the offing. Slugger Carlos Lee was removed from the game in the seventh inning and his locker was cleared out afterward. Manager Brad Mills called it a “non baseball-related” decision then added “I don’t want to go any farther than that.”
Mills, clearly frustrated, removed center fielder Jordan Schafer from the game in the second inning after a pair of fundamental mistakes. His off-line throw allowed the plodding Jones to turn a single into a double. Schafer later threw to the wrong base on sacrifice fly by McKenry, allowing two runners to move up and help the Pirates turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.