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PIT@HOU: Correia strikes out nine Astros batters

HOUSTON -- The last time the Pirates faced Dallas Keuchel here, the young Astros left-hander was merely the conductor for one of Pittsburgh's most electric moments of the season. On July 26, he delivered the first Major League pitch seen by Starling Marte, who hit it for a home run. The Bucs went on to a 5-3 win, a 56-42 record and a 3 1/2-game Wild Card lead.

On Saturday night, Dallas did in the Bucs, holding them to one infield single over the last six of his seven innings as the Astros downed the Pirates, 4-1, handing them their fifth straight loss.

Having gotten ejected in the top of the second inning by animatedly objecting to a reversed safe call at first base, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle got the same view of most of the game as fans: On the TV in his office.

"It's different. At times it gives you a different perspective, because the game looks easier," Hurdle said. "Removed from it, watching on TV, you might want to expect more."

Keuchel hurled four-hit ball for seven innings, and the Astros snapped a 1-1 tie on Jason Castro's three-run homer in the seventh, just in time to present Keuchel with his third win in 10 decisions.

The doom blow by Castro came off Kevin Correia, who had been brilliant through six innings, which featured a career-high-tying nine strikeouts.

In reality, the veteran right-hander was no less brilliant in that seventh, until serving up a 2-1 pitch Castro was able to pull over the wall in the right-field corner.

And the pitch Castro pulled had been one of Correia's best weapons, a changeup he estimated to have thrown 30 times. "One got in the middle [of the plate]. He was in front of it, caught it with the barrel, and it got out," Correia said.

"He threw the pitch that Castro hit numerous times tonight, and all of them went down, except that one," Hurdle said. "That went sideways. So, one pitch out of 97."

But these are days the Pirates can't get away with even one errant incident, a fact reinforced multiple times in that seventh inning alone.

Jed Lowrie led off with a blooper that fell in front of charging center fielder Andrew McCutchen, to Correia's obvious disappointment.

"Well, yeah. He didn't hit it good," Correia said. "But center field is like 500 feet here."

Matt Dominguez followed with an ideal double-play grounder to shortstop Clint Barmes, who intended to pick it on his way to second for the force before tossing on to first. Barmes, however, couldn't make a clean pickup and both runners were safe on the error.

"If I had it to do over, I'd do it different. Catch it and flip it to [Neil] Walker," Barmes said, disconsolately. "However you look at it, those are plays we have to make in close games. You pretty much have to do all the little things. One time we make a mistake and the other team capitalizes and hurt us."

"If we're scoring runs, you save some room for error," Correia said. "We can get away with some of that stuff if we're banging the ball around the yard. Which we're not doing."

Two pitches after fouling off a bunt attempt to advance the runners, Castro cranked his third homer in 235 at-bats.

"Correia did a good job tonight as far as making guys hit his pitches, and he was able to hold us down for most of the game," Castro said. "We caught a big break there on Dominguez's ball, and he just left up a changeup enough for me to get enough of the bat on it. I was looking to advance the runners the best I could and it ended up working out."

"I gotta make a better pitch in that situation," Correia concluded. "But we gotta play better all-around if we're not scoring a lot of runs."

The Pirates scored one run -- on solo home runs -- in each of the two losses to the Astros, who had not allowed a run or fewer in consecutive games since Interleague wins over Cleveland on June 23-24.

At the end of his sixth inning, Correia's ERA dipped to 3.99 -- the first time it has been below 4.00 since the middle of May. Also by that point, he had the nine strikeouts, matching the career high he'd reached twice previously.

"Kevin pitched a very, very good ballgame," Hurdle said. "The action he had [on the ball] tonight was keeping them off balance."

Another day, another first-inning deficit. But this one was manageable, thanks to the rarest of Pirates feats, thwarting a steal attempt. Following his leadoff single, Jose Altuve was nailed by Michael McKenry's strong throw. So Scott Moore's ensuing double had no one to score -- although Moore himself would, advancing to third on a wild pitch and coming home on Brett Wallace's single.

But that 1-0 deficit was within easy reach of Gaby Sanchez's leadoff homer in the second, his seventh of the season and fourth with the Pirates.

Keuchel, whose season numbers are skewed by the few poor outings amid several standout efforts, is a tough 24-year-old. The home run was only the third off him in his last eight starts, and he had no trouble recovering.

Having already escaped a first-inning jam resulting from Marte's leadoff single and a bunt single by Walker, Keuchel set down the Bucs on one hit across his last six innings following Sanchez's leadoff homer in the second. He faced 19 men, one over the minimum, in that stretch.

"He was on his game, with his command and mixing pitches," Hurdle said. "He continued to shave balls away, and we weren't able to counter with the big, opposite part of the field with any consistency. "

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