PITTSBURGH -- Even at the time, the Pirates realized there was something quirky about moving their hottest starter out of the rotation. But room had to be made for the new guy, Wandy Rodriguez, so Kevin Correia and his six consecutive wins were "laid off" in late July.The real quirk has turned out to be Correia's availability to answer any call for pitching help. Talk about having an ace in the hole, and Correia again crawled out Wednesday night to hurl six innings of four-hit ball in the Pirates' 6-3 win over the Astros at PNC Park. "A very professional outing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Got quick outs, moved the ball around, changed speeds." Pitching downhill after escaping his only threat in the fourth, Correia (10-8) earned his eighth win in his last 10 decisions, this time as the replacement for Jeff Karstens, chased from his last start by a strained right hip flexor. With their 72nd win, the Pirates matched the final total last season, Clint Hurdle's first at the team's controls. The season before that, the club had won 57. Pittsburgh is 1 1/2 games back in the National League Wild Card race. Correia got help from Brock Holt's next act. The night after a four-hit game, The Little Second Baseman Who Could had his first two-RBI game to again spark the Bucs' modest nine-hit attack. The pitcher's biggest assist, however, came from a bit of defensive wizardry that Hurdle called "the biggest play of the night," a rare first-to-home-to-first double play that brilliantly illustrated the "inside game." "Inside," as in players' grey matter, their brain power. The Astros had already cut into Correia's 3-0 lead in the fourth on Brian Bogusevic's RBI single and went on to load the bases with only one out. Carlos Corporan slapped a grounder slightly to the left of Gaby Sanchez, who had already mapped out the play in his head. "I'm thinking about it even before the pitch is thrown," Sanchez said. "If it's hit hard right at me, I can just go to second and turn a regular double play. If the ball is hit to my right side, same thing. But a ball down the line would be a tougher double play to second, so the easiest thing is to make sure you get one out at home." And that is where Sanchez's throw went, to Rod Barajas. "I wasn't surprised. I was looking for it," the Pirates' catcher said. "You wanna get one out for sure. The ball was not hit that hard, so I'm expecting to get just one out." Sanchez: "But we know there's a slow guy [Corporan, the Astros' catcher] running down the line, so we might have a chance there." Barajas: "I caught the ball and looked toward first, and I saw Corporan turn his head back towards home, so I decided to take a chance. If I don't see his face, I definitely wouldn't have made the throw. But that told me we might have a chance, so I let it fly." Sanchez: "That's not an easy throw, because you know the runner will be on the inside part of the line, so you have to throw it on the inner part of the base." Barajas: "I put it in a spot where Gaby was able to handle it." "A lot of catchers don't make that double play. They don't even look to make that second play," Hurdle said. "But Rod looked to make a baseball play, and got us out of that inning." Correia was certainly appreciative to be rid of the only roadblock to arguably his best start since a trio of comparable April efforts. "The ball wasn't hit very hard, and I wasn't even sure where [Sanchez] was going to go with it," Correia said. "Home or second? When he threw home, I didn't think we had a chance back at the guy at first. But Rod got rid of the ball so quick and right on the money ... that play really changed the game right there." Starting with that double play, Correia didn't allow another baserunner. The Bucs jumped on left-hander Fernando Abad for a quick pair in the first, on a couple of run-scoring singles by Garrett Jones, driving in his 75th run of the season, and Sanchez. They manufactured a 3-0 lead the next inning, when Alex Presley went station-to-station on first baseman Brett Wallace's error, Correia's sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and another example of Holt's bat control. Focused on simply getting home the run represented by Presley on third with one out, Holt reached for an outside pitch and pulled the ball toward the first-base hole. The ploy would've scored Presley regardless, but Holt was rewarded with an RBI hit when the ball was placed too well for Wallace to get it on time to Abad covering first. Holt picked up his second RBI on a fourth-inning sacrifice fly that scored Presley, who had tripled to drive in Barajas, who had begun the inning with a single. The Bucs resorted to the smallest ball for a 6-1 lead in the sixth. Presley led off with a single, and again went station-to-station, this time on a Jeff Clement walk, a Holt sacrifice bunt and another sac bunt, of the squeeze variety, by Clint Barmes. "He holds his ground," Hurdle said of Holt. "His swing is so short, he looks like he gets it off in a telephone booth. To score two runners from third in different ways ... you gotta like that."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.