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Astros continue comeback trend vs. Bucs

Astros continue comeback trend vs. Bucs

HOUSTON -- A pattern is emerging in the play of the young Astros in recent days, a pattern in which they leave their inhibitions in the clubhouse and forget they lack experience, for the most part. They're making the little plays and coming up with the big hits, and having a blast doing it.

If nothing else, Houston's third three-game sweep of the Pirates, which they polished off with an 8-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, has proven there is not quit in these guys, despite the fact they're starting four rookies on most days.

They've made a habit of coming from behind in the latter innings in the second half of the season, and the Astros did it beautifully again Sunday by scoring seven runs in their final three at-bats, including a four-run sixth inning, to post their 28th come-from-behind win and third in a row over Pittsburgh.

"It might be nice to get off to maybe a little quicker start than that, but we'll take it for sure," Astros manager Brad Mills said.

Houston swept the Pirates three times at home this year, marking the first time since 1990 (Reds), and third time in franchise history it went 9-0 at home against any opponent. The Astros have won 12 of their past 13, and 19 of 22 at home against Pittsburgh.

They came from behind in the sixth inning or later to win all three games this weekend.

"Ideally, you'd like to jump out early and get that pressure off, but with the group of guys we have, it's not a feeling of, 'If we don't score in the first few innings, the game's over,'" said rookie catcher Jason Castro, who drove in the game-winning run with a two-out single in the sixth. "We have that confidence coming into the game that if we don't get it done early we make sure to do a good job of learning the pitcher the first at-bat or two and making sure we capitalize when we get our opportunities."

J.A. Happ (3-1), making his fourth start since being acquired by the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade, got his second win with Houston after allowing three hits, four walks and two runs in six innings. He's 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA in three starts for the Astros at Minute Maid Park this year.

"It was awesome, that outburst we had there and scoring those runs," Happ said. "There was a lot of energy ... today. The guys played with energy and that was fun to watch. I've got some work to do to try to get a little bit more consistent, but I felt like I kept us in the game and we ended up taking care of it."

The Astros got contributions up and down the lineup, with rookie third baseman Chris Johnson going 3-for-4 and hitting his sixth home run to raise his batting average to .420 in his past 27 games. Hunter Pence went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, and made things happen with his feet by stealing his 15th base on the pitch before Carlos Lee drove him home in the third, and legging out a hustling bloop double to center that resulted in a run in the seventh.

It's the aggressive style of baseball preached by Mills and third-base coach Dave Clark, a style that was driven home with the arrival of hitting coach Jeff Bagwell, who was a tremendous base runner as a player.

"As a team, we need to take as much pride as we can in defense and running the bases," Pence said. "Once you get on, you have to be hungry to score. Hopefully I'm able to do that. Sometimes I'm too aggressive, but you try to be aggressively smart. That's kind of the Millsie and Clark [style of] baseball. That's what they want us to do. When Baggy came in, he said we want you guys going from first to third. To do that you've got to be ready before it happens."

Jeff Keppinger had a pair of sacrifice flies after Lee pushed Pence to third with fly balls to the outfield, and Pedro Feliz had the big hit in the sixth with a two-run, two-out, pinch-hit double to score Johnson and Castro and give the Astros a 5-2 lead.

"We're getting to the starters our second and third at-bats and we're making some good adjustments," Johnson said, "and I think it's huge what our starters have been able to do to keep us close in the game and give us time to put it together and get some runs."

Happ didn't have his best stuff, which was indicative of the four walks and one wild pitch he threw. The Pirates scored twice off him in the fourth on a single by Lastings Milledge and a sacrifice fly by Chris Snyder, but he was able to minimize the damage.

"He was effectively wild," Pirates manager John Russell said. "I'm not taking anything away from Happ, [but] we just have to swing the bats better."

In the sixth, Happ walked two batters after one out but got out of the inning when Milledge hit into a fielder's choice and first baseman Brett Wallace turned and fired a throw to home plate to nab Pedro Alvarez trying to score from second base.

"That was big," said Castro, who applied the tag. "It was a little bit of a momentum swing for us. For them to have some threats on the base paths and get that ground ball and make it into a double play, basically, that was big."

The Astros capped the game in style, with rookie shortstop Angel Sanchez going up the middle and throwing out Argenis Diaz to end the game.

Just your average come-from-behind win for the Astros.

"We came into today and guys were saying we wanted to get a sweep, and that's what we wanted to do," Johnson said. "Happy did a great job keeping us in the game, and lately the pitching staff's done an awesome job waiting on us."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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