PITTSBURGH — Two months ago, an early two-run deficit would have had the Pittsburgh Pirates scrambling.
Now, it’s just a blip. And for the moment, two decades of losing almost seem to be one, too.
Mike McKenry and Pedro Alvarez drove in two runs apiece, and the Pirates looked pretty comfortable during their first day in first place, beating the Houston Astros 6-4 on Wednesday.
The Astros have lost seven straight and shipped veteran first baseman Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins after the game as part of a rebuilding process. It’s a process the Pirates know well, though it appears to be on its way to completion.
Pittsburgh has won seven of eight to improve to 45-36 at the season’s midway point, looking very much like a team that could stick around through the summer.
“This stretch that we’ve had is awesome but I think this is very indicative of this ballclub,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “We knew the bats were going to start coming around, and when we did we knew we were going to score a lot of runs.”
Former Cal Poly standout Kevin Correia (5-6) will happily take the help. The 31-year-old pitched well early in the season but struggled to win as the offense limped out of the gate. Correia wasn’t terribly sharp at muggy PNC Park but overcame a shaky start to give up three runs on six hits in six innings, walking two and striking out one to win at home against a National League team for the first time since joining the Pirates before the 2011 season.
The Astros touched Correia for two runs in the second, but the hole lasted all of 15 minutes before Pittsburgh — which rallied from a four-run deficit to win Tuesday — roared back to take the lead.
“Normally, the first month of the season, you give two runs early and you know it’s going to be tight,” Correia said. “Now just have complete confidence that that’s not a lead that’s going to hold against us now.”
Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for his 21st save. Garrett Jones added two hits for Pittsburgh, which has its best record through 81 games since Barry Bonds was swinging for the fences at Three Rivers Stadium 20 years ago.
“You get here for a reason, it just doesn’t happen,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “No one hits you with a wand and you end up in this spot. It hasn’t been all high fives and walk-offs and giggles. There was some gnashing of teeth.”
Not on Independence Day.