The Houston Astros kicked off a six-game road trip Monday afternoon at Pittsburgh battling a 56-minute rain delay and later right-hander James McDonald, who allowed an earned run on three hits over 7 1/3 innings, to lift the Pirates to a 3-1 victory.
Houston posted just five hits — two for extra bases — and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position en route to their fourth straight loss.
Also, the Astros have dropped 10 of 16 games this season versus Pittsburgh after fairing well over recent years against their NL Central rival.
Astros rookie second baseman Jose Altuve broke a scoreless tie with an RBI triple in the third to push starter Henry Sosa across the plate.
Sosa had drawn a one-out walk.
However, the Pirates retaliated for a two-run fourth, thanks in part to Andrew McCutchen reaching on an infield single and veteran Derrek Lee drawing a walk to set the stage for Ryan Doumit’s game-tying double and Josh Harrison’s go-ahead RBI single.
Sosa (2-3) yielded just two earned runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts over six innings to earn his third loss this season.
The 26-year-old rookie has tossed six innings in five of six starts and recorded his third consecutive quality outing, thus helping him to solidify a stronger hold on the No. 5 spot in manager Brad Mills’ rotation with 21 games remaining this season.
For McDonald (9-7), he worked into the eighth, compiling six strikeouts, before being pulled in favor of right-hander Jason Grilli.
Grilli worked out of a minor one-out jam by getting Altuve to ground into a fielder’s choice and rookie J.D. Martinez on a strikeout.
Left-handed reliever Wesley Wright worked a perfect seventh for Houston before turning the ball over to Wilton Lopez, who surrendered a 372-foot solo homer to Lee in the bottom of the eighth, which put the Pirates ahead 3-1 heading into the ninth.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle called upon All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan to close the door in what turned out to be a nail-biting ninth.
First baseman Carlos Lee drew a leadoff walk, prompting Mills to replace the veteran slugger on the bases with pinch-runner Chris Johnson.
Lee snapped his 14-game hitting streak by going 0-for-3.
After right fielder Brian Bogusevic struck out, rookie Jimmy Paredes cracked a single to left to give Houston runners at first and second.
Mills elected to pinch-hit for Angel Sanchez with Matt Downs, who entered Monday’s game with an MLB-best 12 pinch-RBI, in addition to being tied for first in the majors with three pinch-homers.
Downs produced in the clutch with a single to shallow right-center, but Paredes wound up making a crucial baserunning mistake by getting caught between second and third for the second out.
With Johnson at third and Downs — the tying run — at second, Hanrahan struck out Bogusevic to end the rally and record his 35th save.
Hanrahan currently ranks fourth in the NL in saves.
The Astros will attempt to snap their four-game skid Tuesday night when Brett Myers (3-13, 4.81 ERA) gets the starting nod against University of Houston product Brad Lincoln (1-1, 3.64 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.
For the latest Astros news, click on the Subscribe button at the top of the page. Also, be sure to follow Houston Astros Examiner Stephen Goff on Facebook and Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.