HOUSTON -- It's not very often a player comes to the plate with a chance to reach one of baseball's rarest accomplishments -- hitting for the cycle -- and needing only a single to do it.
Astros third baseman Chris Johnson found himself in that situation during a 6-5 loss to the Pirates Friday night after he had doubled, homered, walked and tripled in his first four plate appearances. He stepped to the plate in the eighth with a chance to join select company.
"Guys were chirping in the dugout and stuff," Johnson said. "I just wanted to win that game. I didn't care about the cycle really."
Pirates reliever Tony Watson struck Johnson out swinging, denying him the cycle and ending his streak of reaching base safely in seven consecutive plate appearances. Johnson settled for going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, providing a bright spot on fireworks night at Minute Maid Park. The Astros lost their 11th straight game.
Johnson fell shy in his attempt to become the seventh different Astros player to hit for the cycle -- and first since Luke Scott did it against the D-backs on July 28, 2006 -- but he did complete the cycle in four consecutive at-bats from the ninth inning Thursday through the seventh inning Friday.
Johnson is on a tear, hitting .484 (15-for-31) with two homers and six RBIs in last eight games.
"I'm trying to stay balanced, trying to get a good pitch," he said. "I'm trying to take what they give me and try not to do too much. Those are my goals when I go up to the plate. Whatever my job is when I get up there, I try to do that. If nobody's on, my job is to get on base. If a guy's in scoring position, I've got to drive him in. Just trying to keep it simple right now and it seems to be working."
Johnson has flourished lately despite hitting in different sports in the order, batting sixth last Friday, seventh Saturday and fourth the following four games. He returned to sixth in the order on Thursday and was hitting third Friday for the first time this year. He's the 11th different Astros player to hit third.
That's a sign manager Brad Mills has increasing confidence in Johnson.
"He's more balanced when he's swinging the bat, but I think he's seeing the ball much better," Mills said.
Johnson doubled to left field in the first inning against Pirates starter Jeff Karstens before hitting a homer to left in the third to put the Astros ahead, 3-0. He walked in the fourth, but he set the stage for the cycle by hitting a triple to center field in the seventh.
Johnson crushed the pitch from reliever Jared Hughes and sent it over the head of center fielder Andrew McCutchen and onto Tal's Hill, enabling him to make it to third base for his third triple of the season. The most difficult of the four cycle hits was out of the way, but it was the single that eluded Johnson on this night.