PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates have waited weeks for a
ball to bounce their way. Thanks to the oddly shaped stone wall
behind home plate at PNC Park, one finally did.
Reggie Sanders homered in the eighth inning and the Pirates,
taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce on a two-base wild pitch by
Houston reliever Brandon Puffer, came back to beat the Astros 3-2
Sanders' one-out shot into the left-field seats came off Pete
Munro (3-4) and was his 14th of the season and fifth in 10 games.
Brian Boehringer (4-2) got the victory by pitching two innings,
despite allowing the tying run in the seventh.
The Pirates have lost 15 times when leading or tied after six
innings, including twice in the previous three games against the
Pittsburgh reliever Mike Williams, who squandered a lead
Wednesday night in a 4-3 loss to the Reds and nearly did it again
Thursday before the Pirates held on to win 8-7, pitched a perfect
ninth for his 23rd save in 27 chances.
The night before, Williams gave up two runs in the ninth before
squirming out of a two-on, none-out jam.
"But I had it in my mind all along that we were going to use
him in the ninth inning, if we had the opportunity," Pirates
manager Lloyd McClendon said. "His stuff was as crisp today as
I've seen it all year. The best thing for a closer when he's had a
bad day is to bring him right back in there."
Puffer, the only reliever Houston didn't use Wednesday in an
11-inning loss to Milwaukee, got the Pirates back into the game
with a wild pitch that scored Brian Giles from second immediately
following a rain delay in the sixth inning. Jack Wilson followed
with an RBI single that briefly put the Pirates ahead 2-1.
Puffer replaced starter Ron Villone with a 3-0 count on Adam
Hydzu but, before Puffer completed his warmup throws, crew chief
Joe West halted play for 1 hour, 12 minutes.
Once play resumed, Puffer's first pitch to pinch-hitter Matt
Stairs sailed several feet wide and high and deflected off the
rough-edged limestone wall behind home plate.
"You don't see that too much," Puffer said. "It hit a funky
spot in the wall and just kicked (away)."
By the time Brad Ausmus retrieved the ball in front of the
Astros dugout down the first-base line, a sliding Giles beat the
catcher's throw home.
"It shows how one pitch can change the game," Ausmus said.
"I've certainly never seen that before; it must have caught an
angle. There are some nooks and crannies back there ... you can't
do anything to defend it. It's really kind of a freak occurrence."
The wall was built into 2-year-old PNC Park to create the
possibility of just such a play, but McClendon couldn't remember it
influencing play before.
"I remember when I first saw the wall, I thought, `Oh my, balls
can go anywhere," McClendon said. "But that's the first time
I've seen it. Maybe things are starting to go our way."
Sanders, who had singled, moved from first to third on the play
and scored on Wilson's single up the middle.
The Astros, who had won seven of their first eight against the
Pirates this season, came back to tie at 2 in the seventh on a
walk, Eric Bruntlett's single -- his second major league hit -- and
Brian Hunter's sacrifice fly.
Both starting pitchers had effective outings, but neither
figured in the decision. Pittsburgh's Kris Benson gave up one run --
on Lance Berkman's RBI double in the first -- over six innings in
his best start since mid-May. Villone was charged with two runs in
5 2-3 innings, although the rain delay meant that both scored more
than an hour after he left the game.
"He's pitched well for us four times in a row," Astros manager
Jimy Williams said of Villone, who signed a minor league contract
in mid-May. "He gave us a chance, and that's all you ask."
For a change, Williams didn't give the Pirates a scare. After
giving up four runs and eight hits in 1 2-3 innings the previous
two nights, Williams watched some video tape before Friday's game,
then made a few adjustments.
"You definitely feel better about yourself when you go 1-2-3 in
an inning," he said. "You definitely feel a lot better than you
do when you give up a few runs and have to work hard for the
Villone has a 2.63 ERA in four starts since being picked up
by Houston. He pitched two relief innings for the Pirates against
the Astros in Pittsburgh last year on July 4. ... Benson had
allowed 30 runs, 25 earned, in his last five starts. He is 0-2
against Houston this season and 2-7 in his career. ... Benson
bunted into a double play in the fifth and is 0-for-28 at the plate