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PIT@HOU: Barajas drives home McCutchen to put Bucs up

HOUSTON -- The 1927 Yankees had their Murderers Row. These 2012 Pirates travel the Murderous Road.

Some tourists pack heavy, others pack light. The Bucs pack long. Which is a good thing, because their short game has been coming up, well, short for more than a week.

Solo shots by Alex Presley and Neil Walker on Saturday night gave the Pirates homers in a club record 18 straight road games -- and a National League-leading total of 71 road home runs -- before Rod Barajas' RBI single with two outs in the eighth snapped a tie and set up a 4-3 win over the Astros.

"I've had a lot of opportunities. I started to think the only way I could score a runner from third was on a wild pitch -- that's how the last two scored with me at bat," said Barajas, who, while snapping a personal 0-for-18, ended a remarkable team oh-fer.

His hit off Fernando Rodriguez was the Pirates' first in 18 at-bats with men in scoring position in the first three games of this series, in which the Bucs have nonetheless scored a total of 15 runs. Over their last nine games, the club is batting .128 (6-for-47) with runners in scoring position.

Oh, it has also won seven of those nine, thanks to tough pitching from both ends of the staff, aggressive baserunning, tight defense. And those circuit blows.

"It shows we're resilient," Walker said. "One of the toughest things in sports is getting a hit with men in scoring position, and we haven't been doing a very good job at it. This speaks volumes about how we pick each other up. There, Rod picked up both of us [Walker and Pedro Alvarez, who had been retired with men on first and third and none out]."

Of the two starters making their club debuts on Saturday, Wandy Rodriguez's was far more intriguing. Going against the team for which he started five days ago and dealt him two days later, Rodriguez's start was also longer than that of Armando Galarraga. However, they were equal on the bottom line, with no decisions.

Rodriguez hung around for six innings, yielding six hits and three runs, with a season-high five walks and as many strikeouts.

"I just tried to concentrate on putting the ball where I wanted to. I didn't not think about 'I'm pitching against my old team,'" said Rodriguez, who put up a farewell zero after the Bucs had tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the sixth. "I feel happy. At 3-2, I wanted to keep the team in the game, and we tied it before I left, then won. So I'm happy."

Galarraga, the former near-perfect Detroit righty, went five-plus innings, allowing five hits and three runs, two of them earned, while walking one and fanning five.

After them, it became a battle of the bullpens, in which one had to like the Pirates' chances. Chris Resop (1-3) picked up the win with an inning of work. With Joel Hanrahan resting after having pitched in three consecutive games, Jason Grilli handled the ninth for his second save.

For the second consecutive night, Presley sounded the first salvo, hitting his eighth homer with one out in the first. Houston got that run back in the second on an RBI single by Carlos Corporan, and the 1-1 tie lasted only until Walker launched his 10th homer into Minute Maid Park's upper deck with one out in the fourth.

The Astros leapfrogged into a 3-2 lead in the fifth. The inning began with consecutive singles from the top of Houston's lineup, and Rodriguez was on the verge of a neat escape when he retired the next two hitters on soft flies. But Justin Maxwell changed the plot with a two-run triple to right on a drive that hit the wall just above Presley's glove and just below the home-run marker.

"I tried not to think about [facing a recent ally]," Maxwell said. "He's got good stuff and the Pirates wanted him for a reason. I tried not to make eye contact and just play the game and look for the ball."

Trailing when entering a game's second half is just where the Pirates like to be. For a team with a league-leading 30 comeback wins, a hole is its comfort zone.

"The more you do it, the more your comfortable with it," manager Clint Hurdle nodded. "We were able to stay focused, and our relief guys were sharp."

The Bucs tied it at 3-3 in the sixth by reaping the least from a most-promising setup. They loaded the bases with none out -- Andrew McCutchen's single and first baseman Matt Downs' throwing error on Garrett Jones' grounder ended Gallaraga's night, then lefty Wesley Wright hit Walker with a pitch -- but Alvarez's chopper was a cinch home-to-first double play. Disdaining that huge break, Corporan let Wright's very next pitch sail through him for a passed ball that brought Jones home with the equalizer.

That sequence might have said something about this team, in this season. The unlikely double play could have been a psyche-killer.

"Rather than let it take the wind out of our sails," Hurdle said, "we were okay. 'Let's deal with it. Someone else will pick us up."

Rodriguez received a relatively, and surprisingly, lukewarm welcome from Houston fans when he was introduced and when he first took the field. Oh, they would yet cheer wildly when he was on the mound -- but only when his recent teammates were being even more inhospitable.

The only betrayal of Rodriguez's nerves were the walks, five of them, the most he has walked in 36 starts, since also walking five on July 10, 2011.

Historians can finally stop gauging this Pirates team with the 1992 version, the last to appear in the postseason and to post a winning record.

That's because the Pirates have accomplished something they hadn't done since 1991: At 15-7 in July with three to go, the Bucs have clinched a third consecutive winning month, something they had not managed since '91; the '92 club had a losing May and July.

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