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PIT@HOU: McCutchen drills a solo homer to right field

HOUSTON -- On July 19 the Pirates were seven games above .500 and in first place in the National League Central by a half-game. That was then.

For the second straight night, Pittsburgh allowed Houston to put up a big inning as the Pirates' pitching faltered for the second straight game.

Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton (9-8) and the bullpen combined to allow six runs in the sixth inning, as the young Pirates dropped their second consecutive game to the revamped division-rival Astros, 8-2, at Minute Maid Park.

"[The Astros] are a club that you probably don't have as much information on as you would have earlier," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "There's turnover, but we got scouting reports. We got everything you need to go out and compete."

Morton exited Tuesday's game against Houston with runners on first and second in the sixth with one run already in, and the Astros holding a slim 2-1 lead.

But reliever Chris Leroux didn't have his best stuff and the Astros feasted on the right-hander. Leroux faced four batters without getting an out, allowing the inherited runners to score plus three other runs on four hits. Daniel McCutchen recorded the final two outs.

"[Leroux's] ball was elevated tonight," said Hurdle. "He's been effective. We went with the hot hand, but he wasn't able to make the pitches. "

And as a result, the Pirates are 4-10 in their past 14 games and will try to avert a three-game sweep when the teams meet on Wednesday night. On Monday, the Astros came back from a 3-1 deficit -- aided by a four-run seventh -- in beating the Pirates, 7-4.

On Tuesday, the Astros matched a season high of six runs in an inning in the sixth on a season-best seven hits, putting the game out of reach. The Pirates entered the last of the sixth with the game tied at 1.

While the Astros were enjoying the fruits of a 13-hit attack, the Pirates managed only four hits, including Andrew McCutchen's ninth-inning home run, his 20th.

McCutchen, who also homered on Monday, is the eighth player in franchise history and the first since Nate McLouth in 2008 to have at least 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season.

"We're just not getting the job done," said McCutchen

A day after Wandy Rodriguez struck out 13 Pirates in a seven-inning stint, Astros starter Henry Sosa (2-2) allowed only one run and two hits in six innings, striking out seven and walking just one.

"He utilized the slider, which they've done the past couple of days," said McCutchen. "Using the offspeed. That's something we have to pay attention to. That's something that they'll probably do tomorrow."

Of Pittsburgh's four hits, shortstop Ronny Cedeno had two. He also had the team's only walk and scored a run.

Jimmy Paredes had two hits in the sixth for Houston. The biggest blow for Houston in that frame was a two-run single by J.D. Martinez off Leroux.

"Some days you have those days were you get 15 hits and four runs," said Martinez. "But other days, like today, where you could put everything together in one inning, that's when you really put a hurting on teams. That's what it felt like today.

"We got all our hits, the majority, in that one inning. That's what helped us run away with the game."

Morton went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four earned runs and six hits. He struck out eight, but walked four -- two intentional -- with two wild pitches and one hit batsman.

"I pitched well until the sixth," said Morton. "I was mixing it up well."

Paredes led off the sixth with a single. With Clint Barmes batting, Paredes advanced to second on a Morton balk. Barmes then grounded out to third. With Carlos Corporan batting, Paredes stole third and Morton then intentionally walked Corporan, setting up a potential double-play that would have gotten Morton out of the inning.

But things didn't go Pittsburgh's way. Matt Downs pinch-hit for Sosa and singled in Paredes to snap a 1-1 tie and begin the six-run outburst. It was Downs' Major League-best 12th pinch-hit RBI.

"You're a pitch away from walking off the mound, and you feel like you're doing a good job," said Morton. "Instead, you walk off the mound and leave your team in a hole."

Morton's streak of not allowing a home run to a right-handed batter ended at 338 at-bats on Tuesday, when Jose Altuve's first-pitch home run in the fifth inning tied the game at 1.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead on Alex Presley's two-out RBI single in the third inning that scored Cedeno, who led off the inning with a walk off Sosa. Presley stole second base but was stranded when Josh Harrison struck out to end the inning.

Morton was looking for his 10th win of the season. Since making his professional debut in 2002, the most wins that Morton has in a season is nine, which came in 2008.

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