Visits to Minute Maid Park have rarely produced anything positive for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have lost more games at the Houston Astros' home park than in any opposing venue since 2000.
They're finally starting to make the most of their trips to Houston.The Pirates, coming off two high-scoring wins, will look for their first road sweep of the season on Wednesday afternoon against the Astros in a battle of teams tied for last place in the NL Central.Heading into 2007, Pittsburgh was 11-42 at Minute Maid Park since Houston's new venue opened in 2000. The Pirates (46-54) started to turn their luck around in the notorious hitters' park in 2007, winning six of nine, and they're off to a fine start there in 2008.They scored seven runs in the ninth inning on Monday to cap a 9-3 comeback victory, then started their scoring earlier on Tuesday. Pittsburgh put a run on the board in each of the first three innings and used three home runs to help beat the Astros 8-1."Hitting is contagious," said catcher Ryan Doumit, who hit his 12th homer. "We've got some thunder in this lineup. Hitting has never been the question with us this year."Former NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez has had a disappointing season -- he was hitting just .230 after the Pirates were swept in four games in Colorado last weekend. But he's up to .239 after a couple of impressive games in Houston. Sanchez went 3-for-6 with four RBIs on Monday, hitting a three-run, inside-the park homer, then hit a solo shot Tuesday that cleared the fences, one of his three hits.Ian Snell will try to pitch Pittsburgh to its first three-game road sweep since it beat San Francisco three times from Aug. 10-12. Snell (3-8, 5.83 ERA) has been dreadful on the road, going 1-6 with a 7.71 ERA.He went six innings on Friday in Colorado, allowing four runs -- three earned -- in the Pirates' 5-2 loss, Snell's fourth straight away from home."He struggled a little bit with command early," manager John Russell told Pittsburgh's official Web site. "It looked like he got into a pretty nice rhythm, and he didn't lose velocity doing it, so that's a very good sign."Snell is 0-1 in five career games at Houston, but has a 2.67 ERA.Houston (46-54) has lost three straight since winning five of six, and -- along with Pittsburgh -- is 12 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs.That didn't stop the Astros from adding a veteran pitcher to their depleted staff on Tuesday, though. Houston traded a prospect to San Diego for 31-year-old Randy Wolf in an attempt to shore up a rotation that has a 4.65 ERA, among the 10 worst in baseball."We still think the club we have is good enough to play better than it's played," general manager Ed Wade said. "We've got a million games left in our own division at this point in time."Wolf won't start until Sunday, but one of Houston's more consistent pitchers will get the ball on Wednesday. Brian Moehler (5-4, 4.03) is 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA over his last six starts, including an impressive effort in his latest outing.Moehler went seven innings against the Cubs on Friday, allowing a run on four hits. He didn't get a decision, but the Astros won 2-1.Moehler went six innings, allowing four runs, in Pittsburgh on July 9, earning his fifth win in Houston's 6-4 victory in his only start this season against the Pirates.