HOUSTON — Pirates All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan blew his first save of the season on Chris Johnson’s game-tying RBI double in the eighth, but that didn’t prevent Pittsburgh from bouncing back in extra innings Sunday afternoon and taking the three-game weekend series from the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Manager Clint Hurdle’s squad retaliated with three runs in the top of the 11th and moved within a half game of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central by escaping with a 7-5 victory.
Ultimately, it became a battle of the bullpens, with Pittsburgh utilizing six relievers over five innings and Houston going with five in 5 1/3 innings.
For Hanrahan, he had converted 28 consecutive saves.
Hunter Pence, who finished with two hits in his third straight game in the cleanup spot, got the Astros on the scoreboard with a first-inning RBI single off Pittsburgh starter Kevin Correia.
However, Correia helped himself with the bat by cracking a two-run double to left field in the second to put the Pirates up 2-1.
Astros manager Brad Mills was ejected for the fifth time this season after arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Eric Cooper in the midst of second baseman Jeff Keppinger’s third inning at-bat.
Bench coach Al Pedrique took over the managerial duties.
Keppinger made his skipper proud just two pitches later after experiencing a pleasant case of déjà vu by connecting for a two-run homer to left field for the second consecutive game — both times in the third inning — to put Houston back on top 3-2.
He compiled a .462 (6-for-13) batting average with two home runs, four RBI, two doubles and four runs scored over the series.
Pirates left fielder Alex Presley, who tied Keppinger with a game-high three hits, finished with three RBI, including a game-tying single to left field in the fourth, to score Brandon Wood.
Presley struck again with a two-out RBI double in the sixth to put Pittsburgh up 4-3 and chase Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez allowed four earned runs on eight hits while tying a career-high 11 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings to earn a no-decision.
After tossing a scoreless sixth, Hurdle pulled Correia, who yielded three earned runs on five hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
Keppinger singled off Pirates reliever Jose Veras, but after the right-hander retired Pence and Carlos Lee, Hanrahan was given the ball.
The standout right-hander surrendered the game-tying double to Johnson, thus blowing the save, despite Veras being charged with the run.
Hanrahan struck out Brian Bogusevic to end the inning.
With the game headed to extra innings, neither team could end it during the 10th, yet the following inning turned out to be decisive.
Pittsburgh got the better of Astros closer Mark Melancon, who was charged with three runs (one earned), as part of the three-run inning.
Wood doubled to deep right to lead off the top of the 11th and was replaced with pinch-runner Josh Harrison, who advanced to third when Xavier Paul reached on Melancon’s fielding error.
Harrison scored the go-ahead run on Humberto Quintero’s passed ball, which enabled Paul to reach second and later score on Presley’s run-scoring single — his third RBI of the afternoon.
Pedrique pulled Melancon in favor of Aneury Rodriguez.
Rodriguez retired Chase D’Arnaud on a ground out to third before issuing an intentional walk to Pirates second baseman Neil Walker.
Andrew McCutchen reached first on an error by Rodriguez, which allowed Presley to score and Walker to advance to third, making it 7-4.
Although he surrendered a 359-foot solo homer to Quintero, Pirates reliever Chris Resop earned his first save of the season.
Jason Michaels flew out to end the game.
Chris Leroux (1-0) tossed a scoreless 10th to earn the win, while Melancon (5-3) took his third loss after compiling a season-long 2 1/3 innings.
Pence, Keppinger, Johnson and Quintero produced crucial two-out hits.
However, the Astros went just 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and wound up leaving a total of seven runners on base.
Pittsburgh improved to 9-3 on the season versus Houston.
The Astros will continue their six-game homestand Monday night by welcoming the Washington Nationals to Minute Maid Park.
Rookie right-hander Jordan Lyles (0-4, 4.60 ERA) gets the starting nod for Houston against veteran right-hander Jason Marquis (7-4, 4.05 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
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