The Pirates won their fourth straight, beating Houston, 5-3. The win gave them a three-game sweep on the road.
For much of the game, Astros’ starter Joe Niekro, who came in with a 13-3 record, kept the Pirates in check. They didn’t get their first hit until two out in the fourth, when Willie Stargell blasted his 17th home run.
Pops’ dinger tied the game, as the Astros had gotten a run off Bert Blyleven in the first. Jose Cruz drove it in with a two-out double. After Stargell tied the score in the fourth, Cruz got the Astros another lead in the bottom half. He led off with a walk, stole second and scored on a single by Enos Cabell, putting Houston up, 2-1.
After that, Blyleven and Niekro both stayed in control through the sixth. The seventh didn’t start so well for the Pirates, either. Dave Parker led off with a single, but Pops grounded into a double play. John Milner then walked and Bill Madlock put the Pirates up, 3-2, with his eighth home run, and first with the Bucs.
The Astros had a chance to get it back in the bottom of the inning. Blyleven gave up a pair of one-out singles and Chuck Tanner called for Kent Tekulve. An error by second baseman Rennie Stennett loaded the bases. That brought up Cesar Cedeno, but Teke got him to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Pirates extended their lead in the eighth. With two out, Omar Moreno singled, stole his 34th base of the year, and scored on a single by Tim Foli. That chased Niekro, but the Cobra greeted reliever Joe Sambito with a single to drive in Foli, who’d gone to second on the throw home. That made it 5-2.
Teke got three ground outs in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Art Howe led off for Houston with a double. Howe came around to score on two ground outs, but that was a good exchange for the Bucs. A third grounder ended the game.
Teke picked up his 13th save and the Dutchman improved to 7-3. With Montreal losing its third straight, the Pirates pulled to within four and a half games of first. They remained in a tie for third, percentage points behind the Phillies.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.