HOUSTON - Jed Lowrie hit a three-run homer and Justin Maxwell and Brett Wallace added solo shots to help the Houston Astros coast to a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh on Friday night, further dampening the Pirates already dim postseason hopes.
The Pirates couldn't find much offense as they lost their fourth straight game to fall to six games back for the second NL wild card spot. They've lost 16 of their last 20 games in this late-season swoon to fall to 74-76.
Houston starter Edgar Gonzalez lasted just 1 2-3 innings before leaving with a strained right hamstring. That forced the Astros to use six different relievers to cobble together the rest of the game. The bullpen combined to fan 11 and allow six hits. Fernando Rodriguez (2-10) struck out four in 3 1-3 innings for the win.
Houston’s Brandon Barnes, left, celebrates with Jed Lowrie, right, and Justin Maxwell, center, after they all scored on Lowrie's home run as Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, far right, waits for the next batter Friday night in Houston.
Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke (0-2) yielded three hits and three runs with a career-high eight strikeouts in five innings. He is 0-5 in eight career major league starts.
Garrett Jones allowed the Pirates to avoid a shutout with his solo homer off Rhiner Cruz in the eighth inning.
Brandon Barnes singled to right field before Maxwell drew a two-out walk in the first inning. Lowrie followed with his 15th homer and first since June 26, a shot to the Crawford Boxes in left field. He was on the disabled list from July 15 to Sept. 12 with an injured nerve in his right leg.
Locke was lifted to start the sixth for James McDonald, who was moved out of the rotation on Sunday after a second half filled with struggles.
McDonald was 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA before the break, but entered the game 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA since then.
A change of pace didn't yield different results for McDonald in his first relief appearance since 2010.
Maxwell knocked his solo shot to left field to push the lead to 4-0. Things continued to unravel after that when he plunked Lowrie, before a standup RBI triple by Wallace. Wallace's first triple this season rolled into the corner of right field to extend the lead to 5-0.
McDonald's night ended when he walked pinch hitter Brian Bogusevic. Bryan Morris came on to get the first out of the inning. Then he walked pinch-hitter Scott Moore to load the bases before hitting Jose Altuve with a pitch to send a run home and stretch Houston's lead to 6-0.
Wallace hit a two-out, two-strike homer off Hisanori Takahashi which landed in the bullpen in right-center to pad the lead in the seventh.
NOTES: Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker was out of the lineup again with a sore back. He played on Thursday after missing two of the previous three games with the issue. ... The Astros, who began as the Colt .45s, continued the celebration of their 50th anniversary by wearing throwbacks fashioned after the original Colt .45 uniforms for the third time this season. The white uniforms featured the word "Colts" in orange lettering with a pistol below it. ... These teams continue the series on Saturday when Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia opposes left-hander Dallas Keuchel.