Kevin Correia was demoted from the Pirates rotation weeks ago. Clint Barmes has provided next to nothing offensively. Alex Presley has largely failed to build on a promising 2011.
But despite their struggles this season, those three should take heart. You see, all can be quickly forgiven in a playoff race.
Correia, Barmes and Presley all contributed in a major way to the Pirates’ 6-3 win over the Houston Astros Wednesday night at PNC Park. Pittsburgh’s second win in a row boosted them within 1.5 games of the St. Louis Cardinals for an NL wild card spot.
With the injured Jeff Karstens sitting out at least one trip through the starting rotation, Correia was called on to help prevent the MLB-worst Astros (42-95) from taking a home series from the Pirates (72-64). The 32-year-old came through with six innings of one-run ball, albeit against a Houston club weakened by trades and Triple-A call-ups.
Still, the opponent hardly matters at this stage for the Pirates, who have won only five of their last 15 games. But after taking two of three from basement-dweller Houston, the Bucs will get a weekend visit from the fifth-place Cubs following Thursday’s off day.
Correia’s strong start was a large part of Wednesday’s win, as was the productive night of Barmes, who was unexpectedly placed in the No. 2 spot in the batting order by manager Clint Hurdle. Perhaps the bump-up in the lineup gave Barmes some confidence, because the free-swinging shortstop drew two walks in addition to a single and a successful RBI squeeze bunt.
Houston starter Fernando Abad lasted only four innings, allowing five runs on six Pittsburgh hits. Barmes’ single started a two-run first inning that was punctuated by RBI hits from Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez, who enjoyed a three-hit evening in the No. 5 spot.
The only other Pirate with multiple hits was Presley, who got the start in left field when Jose Tabata was unable to play after fouling a pitch off his foot Tuesday night. The recent call-up reached on an error in the third and came around to score on rookie leadoff man Brock Holt’s infield single.
The biggest moment of doubt for the Pirates occurred in the top of the fourth, when the Astros mounted their only real threat of the evening. Jimmy Paredes led off with a double over Presley’s head and Brett Wallace walked. Houston veteran Brian Bogusevic pushed Paredes home with a single, and Scott Moore loaded the bases with a blooper to right-center that dropped in front of Jones.
With the pitch-to-contact Correia on the mound, the Pirates defense needed to make a play. It did just that when Carlos Corporan grounded to Sanchez at first. The former Marlin fired home for the forceout at the plate, and Barajas gunned back to Sanchez to complete a 3-6-3 double play that ended the inning and roused the PNC Park crowd.
The duo of Presley and Holt teamed up again in the bottom of the inning to push the home side further ahead. Rod Barajas, who turned 37 Wednesday, singled his way on and was driven in by Presley’s long triple over centerfielder Bogusevic’s head. Holt followed with a sacrifice fly one out later, and the Pirates led 5-1.
Barmes bunted home the charging Presley, who had singled to start the sixth, growing the advantage to 6-1. Barmes also helped turn a smooth 1-6-3 double play in the eighth, helping righty Jared Hughes complete a pair of scoreless innings after relieving Correia.
Jason Grilli made a rare mistake in the ninth, serving up Brandon Laird’s first career home run with Wallace aboard. Grilli can certainly be forgiven, much like the beleaguered Bucco trio that combined to make the important win possible.