Veteran righty Kevin Correia can continue a personal unbeaten streak and keep his Pittsburgh Pirates in first place in the National League Central this afternoon when they face the Houston Astros in the third test of a four-game series at PNC Park.
The Pirates pulled even with the Cincinnati Reds atop the Central on Tuesday, when Drew Sutton, claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on June 24, belted a solo homer to center field in the bottom of the ninth inning for a dramatic 8-7 win.
Winners in six of their last seven, the Pirates battled back from a pair of four-run deficits and won for the 10th time in their last 12 home games.
Pittsburgh is eight games over .500 (44-36) for the first time since 1992, when they finished 96-66 and won the National League East. That was also the last time they made the playoffs and finished a season with a winning record.
Cincinnati lost ground Tuesday when it fell, 3-1, in Los Angeles.
"Nobody cares who gets the credit. We know how hard it is. They're having a blast. They have each other's backs and it's fun to watch," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Joel Hanrahan (4-0) blew the save opportunity in the ninth when pinch-hitter Jason Castro hit a two-strike pitch for a double to the right field corner to plate Jed Lowrie.
Wesley Wright (0-2) fanned Gorkys Hernandez for the first out in the bottom of the frame, but Sutton then got hold of a 1-1 pitch and smacked his first homer of the season and fourth of his career.
"That's not usually where I hit homers," Sutton said. "That's what good teams, do, the pitching struggles the hitting picks them up. We're playing pretty well right now, makes it fun to go to the park."
The late rally got A.J. Burnett off the hook for a potential loss. The right- hander, who had won his previous eight starts, allowed 12 hits and six runs over five-plus frames.
Jordan Schafer and Lowrie each had a pair of RBI for the Astros, losers of six in a row overall and eight straight on the road.
"To see these guys battle like they did tonight was pretty cool. When you play real good baseball and end up losing, you come back tomorrow," Astros manager Brad Mills said.
Lucas Harrell equaled a career-high with nine strikeouts over five-plus frames, but he gave up nine hits and five runs.
Correia, who'll turn 32 next month, was 2-6 on the season after dropping a 7-1 interleague decision at Baltimore on June 13.
He defeated Minnesota, 7-2, in another interleague game six days later, and has since allowed 12 hits and seven runs in 11 innings in a no-decision against Detroit and a 14-5 win at St. Louis.
In nine career meetings with Houston, the San Diego native is 0-1 with a 3.79 earned run average across 35 2/3 innings.
He's 1-2 in six home starts in 2012.
Houston turns to rookie phenom Dallas Keuchel, who was 14 years old when Correia was a fourth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2002.
The youngster, himself a seventh-round pick in 2009, debuted in the majors with five innings of one-run ball against the Texas Rangers on June 17, then return on June 23 for a complete-game effort against Cleveland in which he allowed a run on six hits in an 8-1 triumph.
His third start again saw him allow just a single run, this time in six innings along with four hits given up against San Diego on June 28.
In his initial 20 innings of big-league work, Keuchel has surrendered three runs on 14 hits with nine walks and eight strikeouts while holding opposing batters to a .194 average.
The Pirates won two of three from the Astros in a May series at PNC Park and 11 of 18 games between the teams last season. Houston last won the series in 2010, taking 11 of 15 games.