Wolf delivers much-needed win as Astros snap losing skid

PITTSBURGH -- Houston Astros starter Randy Wolf made sure he didn't need much help from his team's struggling offense.

The left-hander allowed three hits in seven innings and Hunter Pence had two hits and three RBIs to help the Astros snap a five-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.

"We definitely needed it," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said about Wolf's outing. "Randy gave us seven really good innings. He was pretty sharp, really focused. He settled in nicely and kept us in the ballgame. If we can get pitching like that, we'll be OK."

Wolf (11-12) gave up one run and struck out seven to win for the third time in four starts this month. He beat the Pirates for the second time in 10 days and won his sixth straight decision against Pittsburgh.

"To get that kind of pitching performance, it set the tone for us," Pence said.

Wolf's only mistake was a home run in the fourth inning from Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche.

"Everybody knows we've been struggling a bit," Wolf said. "It's been tough for us. But when you go out there, you can't think about throwing a shutout. You just have to pitch your game. It worked out for us today."

Ty Wigginton and Geoff Blum also had RBIs for Houston.

It was the first victory for the Astros since Sept. 11, when they beat the Pirates 6-0 to complete a four-game home sweep.

Since then, the Astros lost two "home" games to the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee and were swept by the Marlins in Florida. During the losing streak, Houston was no-hit by Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs and managed just five runs and 16 hits combined during the five games.

"It's been a long week," Cooper said. "It's been a long time since we've had a win."

Houston got some help Friday night from Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell (6-12), who battled control problems.

Snell, who didn't allow a hit until one out in the fourth inning, gave up one earned run and three hits in six innings. But the right-hander walked five, including two in the fourth, when Houston scored twice on a single from Pence and a ground out from Wigginton.

"He was having trouble throwing the ball over the plate," Pittsburgh manager John Russell said. "It would have helped if he could have gone deeper in the game. He's in a rut where he's having trouble locating the ball over the plate."

Snell has walked 88 in 159 1/3 innings this year, after walking just 68 in 208 inning in 2007.

"I've struggled all year with my control," Snell said. "I can't pinpoint why. I didn't expect to walk five people. I managed to limit the damage."

Pittsburgh walked eight, one day after issuing 11 in a 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pence added a two-run double and Blum had an RBI single during a three-run eighth against Pirates reliever Denny Bautista.

LaRoche finished with two hits. The Pirates first baseman has five homers and 18 RBIs in his past 11 games.

The left-hander had been 1-for-10 with four strikeouts in his career against Wolf before his home run.

"Adam's a good hitter," Wolf said. "I wanted to throw a strike. I didn't want to walk him. I threw a ball that was on the plate and down. He got his hands extended and gave it a good shot."

Pittsburgh, which has lost four of five games, reached 90 losses for the fourth straight season and sixth time since 2000.

"It's frustrating," said Russell, in his first season as manager. "I'm not going to talk about the years before because there's not much we can do about them. Wins and losses are what we have to start concentrating on."

Game notes
Wolf's last loss to Pittsburgh came June 30, 2000, when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies. His winning streak against the Pirates is tied for the longest active streak in the major leagues with Derek Lowe of the Dodgers. ... The Astros are a National League-best 37-21 since the All-Star break. ... Houston 1B Lance Berkman, who went 0-for-1 with three walks, is in a career-worst 0-for-23 slump. ... Pittsburgh, which dropped to 38-41 at home, will finish with a losing home record for the seventh time in eight seasons at PNC Park. The only exception was 2006, when the Pirates went 43-38.