• Falling fast: The Pirates are 0-7, and 0-4 at home, since winning nine of 13 before the All-Star break. Worse yet, the Pirates are now in sole possession of last place in the NL Central.
• Close save: Astros closer Brad Lidge had to work hard for the save tonight. First, he loaded the bases with one out in the ninth. He struck out the Pirates' Matt Kata and Freddy Sanchez then struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt and off home plate umpire Joe West's chest protector. That prevented the ball from possibly going to the backstop and allowed catcher Brad Ausmus to tag the plate with the ball in his bare hand, forcing out pinch-runner Rajai Davis to end the game.
• Figure this: Houston won for the second time in seven games since the All-Star break. Additionally, Houston beat Pittsburgh for the first time in seven games this year.
• Quotable: "It hit off [umpire] Joe [West] -- I think it hit him square in the chest -- and
it went over my left shoulder. I don't panic a lot, but that was panic right there." -- Ausmus, on the game's final play
-- ESPN.com news services
Astros 2, Pirates 1
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Roy Oswalt lost a base hit and the Astros gave away a run on a single that wasn't. Still, it all worked out for Houston in an unusual game that ended with an apparent wild pitch that wasn't.
Carlos Lee's two-run homer in the first inning helped Roy Oswalt bounce back from the worst start of his career, and the Astros held on to beat the Pirates 2-1 Friday night as Pittsburgh squandered scoring chances in each of the final three innings.
The Pirates' seventh straight loss dropped them into last place in the NL Central for the first time this season.
Pittsburgh loaded the bases with one out in the ninth with reliever Brad Lidge walking pinch-hitter Xavier Nady and hitting Nate McLouth with a pitch that struck the dirt before deflecting off McLouth's pants leg.
After Lidge struck out Matt Kata, Freddy Sanchez struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt and off plate umpire Joe West's chest protector. That prevented the ball from possibly going to the backstop and allowed catcher Brad Ausmus to tag the plate with the ball in his bare hand, forcing out pinch-runner Rajai Davis to end the game.
"The guy was bearing down on him [Ausmus] from third base and he went to grab it and missed it, fortunately he got it and tagged home plate and that was it," Lidge said. "It would have been nice to have it a little more simple than that, but we got it done."
Ausmus described the frantic ending as "panic, pure panic."
"It hit off Joe -- I think it hit him square in the chest -- and it went over my left shoulder," Ausmus said. "I don't panic a lot, but that was panic right there."
Lidge, closing again for Houston, got his second save since Tuesday after not converting any of his first four attempts.
Two innings before that, Oswalt (9-6) lost an apparent RBI single on a play at the plate, but he didn't lose the game as he limited the Pirates to one run over six-plus innings to beat them for the fifth consecutive time. Oswalt's 107th career win moved him past Nolan Ryan and tied him with J.R. Richard for fourth place on Houston's career list.
Oswalt rebounded after yielding a career-high eight earned runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 9-3 loss Saturday to the Cubs.
The Pirates are 0-7, and 0-4 at home, since winning nine of 13 before the All-Star break. This time, they wasted an excellent start by Tom Gorzelanny (9-5), who pitched six shutout innings after yielding Lee's 19th homer four batters into the game.
"We're going to turn it around and right the ship," Gorzelanny said. "We're not a team that should be doing this."
Pittsburgh got a run back in the fourth on Sanchez's leadoff double and Jason Bay's RBI single, then kept Houston from adding on to its 2-1 lead in the seventh.
With the bases loaded and one out following Mark Loretta's single and two walks by Gorzelanny, Oswalt looped an apparent RBI single to right.
Loretta, on third, got a late break to the plate as he waited to see if the ball would be caught by Ryan Doumit. Loretta tried sliding around catcher Ronny Paulino's tag on Doumit's throw but couldn't get his hand on the plate. Craig Biggio struck out looking to end the threat.
"By going back to third, if he does catch it, I have an option to run," Loretta said. "Once it drops I don't have an option. I should have gone further down the line and just read the ball, so it's my mistake."
Paulino said, "It was a great throw -- the throw got there first."
Oswalt was lifted with soreness in some upper chest cartilage following Paulino's double leading off the Pirates' seventh, but reliever Dan Wheeler struck out Jack Wilson and got McLouth to ground into a double play. Oswalt probably won't know until Sunday if he can make his next scheduled start.
Wheeler got out of his own jam in the eighth following another leadoff double, by Kata. Wheeler struck out Doumit and Bay with runners on first and second as the Pirates stranded six runners in the final three innings and 11 overall.
"We pitched great and we made some great defensive plays," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "We did everything a major league team can do except not get base hits with runners in scoring position."
Oswalt struck out four and didn't walk any while giving up seven hits. Gorzelanny struck out four, walked two and permitted six hits but couldn't win his fourth decision in a row.
The Pirates' losing streak is their longest since they dropped eight in a row last Sept. 21-29. ... Oswalt won on the road for the first time in five decisions since May 7 in Cincinnati. He pitched for the third time in seven days, including a three-pitch relief outing Tuesday against Washington. ... Oswalt is 11-5 against the Pirates and hasn't lost to them in seven starts since April 25, 2005. ... Of Ryan's 324 victories, 106 were with Houston. ... The Pirates were in last place nearly all of last season before finishing fifth. ... Bay is 1-for-16 against Wheeler.