PITTSBURGH -- Fighting to keep their spot in a crowded American League Wild Card picture, the Astros did exactly what they needed to during a seven-game swing through Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Coming off a series victory over the Orioles, the Astros claimed another over the Pirates with Wednesday's 5-4 win at PNC Park, their fifth win in six games.
"We did a pretty good job of executing some at-bats," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's got some really good stuff and we stayed enough inside the strike zone. Gattis delivers a big blow, I think [that] relaxed the dugout a little bit. Marwin Gonzalez comes up with a big hit. We also had the two big sac flies with second and third, using the middle of the field. We did a little bit of everything to put across our runs."
The Pirates' bullpen put together four hitless innings, but the Astros withstood Gregory Polanco's RBI triple in the seventh and got the ball to Ken Giles, who pitched a perfect ninth to secure his fifth save. Like Houston, Pittsburgh is trying to gain ground in the Wild Card standings -- but the Bucs have dropped five of their last six, falling three games behind the Cardinals in the National League race.
"We put a lot of good swings on balls, had really good at-bats. We were putting pressure on them," said Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, who homered in the third inning. "Just a matter of getting that timely hit, that big hit in the gap to clear the bases, that could get us going. We gave ourselves a lot of chances, and that's what you've got to do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Gatty-bomb: Astros slugger Gattis reached 20 homers for the fourth time in his four big league seasons with his two-run shot to center field in the second inning. Gattis, who has 90 career homers, is hitting .289 with 14 homers and 30 RBIs in 38 games as a catcher this year and .208 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 56 games as designated hitter.
"It means a lot to me, hitting 20 for four years," Gattis said. "It's definitely a milestone. I'm just glad it happened." More >
Loud and clear: Coming off back-to-back starts in which he gave up 12 hits, Cole continued to allow hard contact against the Astros. In the third, Carlos Correa's single came off his bat at 107 mph, as measured by Statcast™. Gattis followed with a 413-foot homer with an exit velocity of 106 mph. Gonzalez laced an RBI triple off Cole in the fourth that came off his bat at 107 mph. Cole finishes the month having allowed 41 hits while only striking out 22 in 26 2/3 innings.
"Miss over the plate and I'm just getting punished," Cole said. "That's the bottom line."
McHugh rebounds: After giving up four homers in the first inning in his previous start in Baltimore -- before even recording his first out -- McHugh snapped a personal four-game losing streak and won for the first time since July 23 by allowing three runs and seven hits in five innings. He was 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in his previous five starts.
"We've talked about it before," McHugh said. "We have kind of a rough start, those five days turn into a pretty long five days, and when you're going well it feels like you're out there every day on the mound. We had some stuff to work on this week and just trying to get better every time out. I thought we were able to accomplish some of those things today."
Beat the shift: The Astros challenged Polanco all series with one of the most aggressive shifts he's seen: three infielders between first and second base, one outfielder down the left-field line and the other two in the gaps. Polanco beat the shift twice Wednesday, knocking an RBI single through the open left side in the fifth inning and pulling an RBI triple to the mostly open right field in the seventh.
"It speaks to his mentality as a hitter: 'I'm going to hit the ball hard where it's pitched,'" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's not up there to yank or drill something in the water. He's up there to do some damage, trying to hit the ball hard. And he's been doing it quite frequently lately."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cole retired the Astros in order in the first inning, his first clean opening inning since April 21 and just his second of the year. Furthermore, Cole retired the opposing leadoff man for the first time in his last six starts; he last retired the leadoff man on July 22 against the Phillies.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers (9-6, 4.48 ERA) will get the start in Friday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener against the Rays at Minute Maid Park. He's looking to win consecutive decisions for the first time since beating the Rays and Reds in back-to-back games in mid-June. He's 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in his last three starts, allowing 17 hits (six homers) in 16 2/3 innings.
Pirates: The Pirates will begin a seven-game road trip through Milwaukee and Chicago at Miller Park, which has been unkind to them for the last 10 years. Since 2006, Pittsburgh is 19-68 in Milwaukee's ballpark. The Bucs have lost nine straight there, but they'll try to reverse that trend Thursday behind rookie Chad Kuhl (3-1, 3.62 ERA), with first pitch set for 8:10 p.m. ET.