HOUSTON -- The Pirates are limping to the finish line.
On Wednesday, Pittsburgh was unable to advance a runner to second base and managed only four hits. Houston's 2-0 win completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Minute Maid Park. It was Houston's second series sweep of the season.
"We have a better offense than we showed," said first baseman Garrett Jones, who defensively was involved in the pivotal play of the game during the Astros' two-run fourth inning.
With runners at first and third and no outs, a ball hit in front of home plate by Humberto Quintero resulted in a putout from catcher Ryan Doumit to Jones. But Jimmy Paredes, who opened the inning with a walk, bolted for home from third base after Doumit looked the runner back and threw to Jones, who proceeded to try to get Paredes at the plate.
Jones' throw was a bit off line with Pirates starting pitcher James McDonald covering, and a sliding Paredes scored.
"I tried to catch it and get rid of it quick," said Jones. "If the throw was right on the money we would have had a better chance. I don't know if we would have [gotten him]. He got a good jump and it was a bang-bang play.
"It's tough for a pitcher to get back there and to be able to get in a good position to make that play."
It would have been a tough play to make for any position player. More so with Paredes gaining speed as he approached home.
"I probably could have taken a step," said McDonald (8-7). "It wasn't that bad of a throw. If I was a catcher and had gear on I would have no problem stepping across [home plate] and getting that ball."
Jones was given an error on the play as Angel Sanchez moved to third on the throw. Sanchez scored on Jordan Schafer's bunt single on the first-base side to make it 2-0 and conclude the scoring.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said Doumit was correct in throwing to first base on the play.
"Ryan made the right play," said Hurdle. "We've got to be able to execute throwing the ball 90 feet. James might have been caught a little off guard. I'm not sure the position at the plate was where it was needed to be, and the throw was off line.
"Ryan looked him back, stopped him, made an accurate snap throw. We've got to be able to throw the ball from first to home and have a chance to get the out."
The loss was Pittsburgh's fourth straight and 11th in its last 15 games. The Pirates were outscored 17-6 in the series.
Pittsburgh has been shut out 12 times this season. The Pirates had no success against Astros starter J.A. Happ (5-15), who allowed only three hits in seven innings while snapping his own four-game losing streak.
"Getting ahead of hitters is what helped me a lot tonight and gave me the confidence to kind of attack a little bit," said Happ, who walked one and had six strikeouts.
"Putting them on the defensive is something I needed to do more of, and I felt like I did that a lot more tonight with getting ahead in the count and attacking the strike zone. My control was better tonight."
Doumit, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and McDonald had Pittsburgh's four hits.
Andrew McCutchen, who homered in the first two games of the series, was hit by a pitch from Astros closer Mark Melancon with two outs in the ninth to bring Doumit to the plate as the potential tying run. Doumit struck out swinging to end the game.
McDonald allowed only two runs -- one earned -- in six innings. He allowed seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts, and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the second inning without allowing a run.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.