Well, that was quick.
The Pirates' stay atop the National League Central standings ended almost as quickly as it began on Saturday night when the Houston Astros tagged Pittsburgh reliever Jose Veras with three eighth inning runs to scratch out a 6-4 win and drop the Pirates back behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the division race.
The Astros got to Pirates starter Paul Maholm early, picking up a run in the second inning before receiving a two-run blast from Jeff Keppinger to earn a 3-0 advantage in the third. The Pirates came back to tie the score using the long ball, though. Neil Walker hit a solo home run in the fifth inning before Lyle Overbay and Brandon Wood followed with back-to-back solo jobs in the sixth. A Neil Walker RBI single in that same sixth gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead, which it held until the bottom of the eighth.
At that point, Jose Veras came in an immediately gave up a lead-off walk, which sparked the Astros three-run rally to take the lead. Mark Malancon came in and nailed down the Astros first save in five weeks to seal the Houston victory.
Maholm went just five innings, giving up nine hits and those three earned runs with three strikeouts and a walk. Walker was 4-5 and catcher Michael McKenry was 3-4. Their big nights were wasted, however, as Houston starter Bud Norris got out of jams in the first and second innings to keep the Pirates off the board early.
The loss drops Pittsburgh to 48-44, one game behind first place St. Louis, who defeated Cincinnati 4-1 Saturday night in the Queens City. Milwaukee, tied with the Bucs for the time being in the standings, is trailing Colorado 3-2 in the fifth at Coors' Field.