Pirates All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen connected for two homers and drove in four runs off Houston starter J.A. Happ in the rubber game of the series Wednesday night, as Pittsburgh erased an early three-run deficit en route to a 5-4 victory.
The Astros have dropped five of their last six games since recording a three-game sweep over Pittsburgh last week at Minute Maid Park.
Although Pirates starter Brian Burres retired Jason Bourgeois and Jimmy Paredes on grounders to start the game, rookie J.D. Martinez belted a two-out single to left to set the stage for Carlos Lee’s two-run homer, followed by a solo shot from Matt Downs.
Lee has hit safely in 16 of his last 17 games.
McCutchen managed to cut the lead to 3-1 with a solo homer — a monstrous 414-foot blast to right-center — in the bottom of the first.
Shortstop Clint Barmes got the run back for Houston with a solo home run of his own in the fourth, giving Happ a solid 4-1 lead.
Barmes and Downs led the Astros with two hits apiece.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle elected to pull Burres in favor of Jared Hughes after the 30-year-old lefty struggled to get out of the fourth.
Burres gave up four earned runs on seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings in what turned out to be a no-decision.
Hughes stranded Astros catcher Humberto Quinitero at third and Bourgeois at first by getting Paredes on a grounder to end the inning.
Unfortunately for Happ, the lefty made it through five innings of work, but was unable to hold the lead due to the Pirates’ three-run fifth.
Happ struck out Michael McKenry to start the inning before walking pinch-hitter Brandon Wood and yielding a single to Alex Presley.
It appeared Happ was on the verge of working out of the jam after striking out third baseman Josh Harrison for the second out.
However, the 24-year-old McCutchen shifted the momentum in Pittsburgh’s favor with a game-tying, three-run homer to left field.
McCutchen’s fourth career multihomer game puts him at 22 home runs in 2011, thus adding onto his career high for a season.
Happ allowed four earned runs on five hits with four walks and eight strikeouts over 120 pitches (71 for strikes) to earn a no-decision.
“He was able to work himself out of struggles, and then got that one over the middle of the plate, and McCutchen made him pay,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “He was able to at least fight through it. We’ve seen him fight through it before when he hasn’t been able to find that rhythm or tempo. He had the good velocity on his fastball. He was able to make some pitches.”
The 28-year-old Happ had yielded just two runs (one earned) over his previous 13 innings entering Wednesday’s game at PNC Park.
He has made three starts for Houston since returning from a brief stint lasting a little over two weeks at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Ultimately, it became a battle of the bullpens, as Houston utilized four relievers, with the Pirates needing five to get the job done.
David Carpenter and Fernando Rodriguez tossed a scoreless sixth and seventh for Houston prior to the Pirates creating plenty of trouble for Wilton Lopez and Sergio Escalona in the eighth.
Pinch-hitter Garrett Jones singled to center field with one out and was replaced with pinch-runner Chase D’Arnaud, who later advanced to second on Ryan Doumit’s single, causing Hurdle to put the bat in pinch-hitter Jason Jaramillo’s hands with the pitcher’s spot up.
Mills pulled Lopez in favor of Escalona.
Jaramillo connected for a single through a hole in the right side of the infield to push D’Arnaud across the plate for the go-ahead run.
Lopez (2-6) was charged with the earned run.
Tony Watson (2-2) tossed one-third of an inning — retiring Brian Bogusevic on a grounder to end the eighth — to earn the win.
Joel Hanrahan threw a perfect ninth for his 36th save.
“That was our game to win … that one,” Mills said. “We’ve had a few tough ones to lose this year, and that was definitely one of them.”
The victory marked the 600th of Hurdle’s managerial career dating back to his six-plus years (2002-09) at the helm with the Colorado Rockies.
Houston is idle Thursday before opening a three-game series on Friday night against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
Right-hander Bud Norris (6-9, 3.83 ERA) will get the starting nod for the Astros in the opener versus rookie Tommy Milone (0-0, 8.31 ERA).
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