Bucs starter James McDonald exited after four innings. He allowed three runs on five hits and tossed 80 pitches. It was his shortest stint since joining the team from the Dodgers on July 31. Right-hander Daniel McCutchen came on in relief and was followed by right-hander Chris Leroux, who took the loss, falling to 0-1.
"Eighty pitches in four innings, that's a lot," Russell explained. "McDonald took a long time to get out of the first, the first two hitters really hurt him, so more than anything it was just a lot of pitches to throw in four innings. It's getting toward the end of the season, and we didn't want to push him anymore."
The first two men the Astros sent to the plate, rookies Jason Bourgeois and Angel Sanchez, saw 10 and 12 pitches, respectively, before each reaching base.
"You get to keep reading the radar gun and seeing what this guy's got," Astros second baseman Jeff Keppinger said of watching the first two at-bats. "None of us had ever seen this guy before -- maybe some of the younger guys had seen him in the Minor Leagues or something -- but you want to see what he's got and what he's going to go to when he gets ahead and has two strikes. What's he got? It's really big. He was throwing a lot of fastballs early, and it let us take advantage of that when we have the three-, four-, five-hole hitters."
Astros starter Brett Myers staggered through six innings allowing six runs (one unearned) and six hits. He stretched his streak of consecutive starts of six or more innings to 32. It is the longest such streak since Curt Schilling did it in his first 35 starts of 2002, while with Arizona.
Myers notched the win, upping his record to 14-7, matching his career high for wins. He went 14-9 with Philadelphia in 2003.
McDonald labored through a 42-pitch first inning and was tagged for two runs on two hits. He also issued two walks. The Astros plated their runs on a RBI single from Hunter Pence and a sacrifice fly by Keppinger.
"They put together two good at-bats the first two hitters," McDonald said. "I threw a lot of pitches, and I tip my hat to them. They had two good at-bats."
Pittsburgh came back in the bottom of the first inning and sliced the Astros' lead to 2-1. Andrew McCutchen singled and advanced to second when shortstop Sanchez bobbled a potential double-play grounder by Jose Tabata. McCutchen scampered home with an unearned run on a groundout by Garrett Jones.
McDonald, who was constantly behind in the count, was nicked for another run in the top of the second. Brett Wallace singled and eventually came around to score on a RBI single by Sanchez, who advanced to third on an errant throw by McCutchen. McDonald limited the damage to one run and the Astros had a 3-1 lead.
Pittsburgh tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the third inning. Tabata singled, and Neil Walker drew a walk. Jones doubled into the gap in right-center, knocking in both Tabata and Walker.
Tabata was removed from the game after scoring that run with irritation in his left knee. Delwyn Young took over in right field, and John Bowker moved from right to left field.
"Tabata should be all right," Russell said. "He had some irritation in his left knee under his left knee cap. He said from time to time it bothers him a little bit, and he made kind of a sudden stop and felt it and felt he could still play, but he was limping a little bit, and we didn't want to take a chance with him. Strength is good, all the joints are good, and the X-rays came back negative. He's day-to-day, and I know he wants to play, and we'll see how he is Saturday."
Houston took a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth inning as Pence and Keppinger singled. With two outs, Chris Johnson singled to right off Daniel McCutchen and drove in Pence.
Pittsburgh came right back in the bottom of the fifth inning. Andrew McCutchen and Young drew back-to-back walks. McCutchen scored on sacrifice fly by Jones, his fourth RBI of the night. Pedro Alvarez smacked a double off the center-field wall, knocking in Young and staking the Pirates to a 5-4 lead.
"I was very pleased with the offense. It was one of our better execution games," Russell said. "We got guys over, and we got guys in, and we got sacrifice flies, and we got bunts down, and we did some good things to score runs. We just couldn't find the combination to shut them down."
The seesaw struggle continued, as Houston roughed up the Pirates' bullpen in the top of the sixth. Daniel McCutchen surrendered a single to Wallace. Leroux was summoned from the bullpen, and walked Bourgeois and gave up an RBI single to Sanchez, plating Wallace. Bourgeois advanced to third on an error by left fielder Bowker. Pence followed with a two-run double, scoring Bourgeois and Sanchez. Keppinger singled, scoring Pence. Sean Gallagher came on to get the last out, but when the smoke cleared, Houston had an 8-5 lead.
"McCutchen and Leroux were just inconsistent and got behind," Russell said. "That's what hurt us all night."
Pinch-hitter Andy LaRoche hit a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, cutting the Astros' lead to 8-6. It was the first pinch-hit home run of LaRoche's career.
Pittsburgh sliced the lead to 8-7 in the bottom of the seventh. Jones tripled off reliever Fernando Abad and scored on a sacrifice fly by Alvarez.
Houston put the game away with two runs against Bucs reliever Joel Hanrahan in the top of the ninth inning. Keppinger doubled, and Johnson walked. Keppinger scored on a single by Humberto Quintero. Johnson came home on a pinch-hit single by Geoff Blum.
Brandon Lyon tossed a scoreless ninth inning to notch his 19th save for the Astros.