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PIT@HOU: McKenry plates a pair with three-hit game

HOUSTON -- From great beginnings, to a greater ending. What better way to bookend the start of a career?

Starling Marte, who hit the first pitch of Thursday's game for a home run, hit the 248th pitch of Friday night's game for a game-tying ninth-inning sacrifice fly seconds before Drew Sutton scored on a wild pitch, and the Pirates roared back for a 6-5 victory over the scrappy Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Cincinnati Reds won't lose a game, with their 3-0 win Friday night at Colorado being their eighth straight? Fine, they aren't going to lose the Pirates, either. With its eighth win in 10 games, Pittsburgh stuck within two games of the National League Central leaders.

"Gotta love that at-bat by Marte, late in the game. That's a tough situation," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle enthused over the rookie's confrontation with Xavier Cedeno with the bases loaded and one out. "You don't think he's going to get doubled-up ... but you never know. Then to execute and drive that ball to center field like that -- that's good stuff."

The Bucs had loaded the bases against Rhiner Cruz on Michael McKenry's single -- his third hit of the game -- and consecutive walks of pinch-hitters Sutton and Casey McGehee, before Cedeno entered to face Marte.

Marte roped Cedeno's second pitch to deep center to score Jordy Mercer, who was running for McKenry.

Sutton, on second at the time, had only read Cedeno's first pitch. That would prove just as critical.

"I saw that first pitch to Marte was a curve, down low," Sutton said. "When I got to third [after tagging up on Marte's sacrifice fly], I told [third-base coach Nick] Leyva, 'He might bounce one. If he does, I'm going.'"

Sutton took off as soon as Cedeno's first pitch to Rod Barajas kissed ground. Otherwise, he does not beat catcher Chris Snyder's retrieval and flip to Cedeno covering the plate.

"In a close-game situation, you have to take advantage of something like that," said Sutton, the well-traveled and savvy veteran. "It's awesome to come back like that. Every game matters."

"Sutton was ready," Hurdle said. "The wild pitch ... we've got no control over that. But if we get it, we score. He broke right as soon as the ball was in the dirt. That's being focused, and we took advantage of the opportunity."

They also took their very first lead of a game they'd played uphill. It was the only lead they would need, as Joel Hanrahan picked up save No. 31 -- his third in as many days -- stranding a potential tying run that had reached second with one out.

"We knew, if we had a save opportunity, that he would pitch," said Hurdle, whose policy against using a reliever in three consecutive games is subject to numerous factors. "He was a little skittish Thursday night, and there were some things we talked about, and rather than wait another day -- and not knowing if there'd then be a save opportunity -- we thought, 'Let's just get him back in there.'"

Seconds after the Bucs had drawn into a 4-4 tie, completing the climb from early deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 hung on starter Jeff Karstens, Chris Johnson welcomed Jared Hughes into the game with a leadoff triple in the seventh. J.D. Martinez's one-out single delivered Johnson, whose three-hit game lacked only a single for the cycle.

Pittsburgh spoiled one of the finest games of young Jordan Lyles' career by pushing across the seventh-inning tying run soon after his departure. McKenry led off with the double that chased Lyles, scampered to third on Clint Barmes' sacrifice bunt and scored on pinch-hitter Josh Harrison's sacrifice fly, tying it at 4.

Lyles, raked for seven runs and nine hits in only four innings in Pittsburgh earlier this month, went six-plus Friday night, allowing seven hits and four runs. He tied his career high with eight strikeouts and did not issue a walk.

Typically, Karstens gutted out five innings on a night he clearly did not have his best stuff, particularly lacking command of his breaking ball. Not so typically, Karstens allowed two home runs -- in back-to-back innings no less -- after having given up one all season in 46 innings.

In his five innings, Karstens was charged with a total of six hits and four runs, with three walks -- another season high -- and seven strikeouts.

"There were a handful of pitches he didn't execute anywhere near what he wanted, and they really hurt him. Every one got squared up," Hurdle said. "But he battled. He kept it at four, without having an easy inning. He didn't let it get out of hand. After the five, I felt confident in our bullpen."

The Astros grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on Ben Francisco's RBI single and a play that demonstrated that even a badly executed safety-squeeze bunt need not bump off a runner.

With Justin Maxwell on third base with one out, Lyles bunted the ball about 10 feet up the third-base line. In other words, right into McKenry's waiting room, as the catcher fielded the ball and waited for Maxwell's arrival. But Maxwell swerved around McKenry's first tag attempt. The maneuver took him way past home plate, so he had to put on the brakes and leap back for home -- which he did while avoiding McKenry's second tag attempt.

Johnson's leadoff homer in the third gave Houston a 3-0 lead, and in the fourth Francisco neutralized Presley's homer in the top with his own blast -- his first with the Astros -- in the bottom.

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