Paul Wagner usually gets asked how he could pitch so poorly. Then, on one almost inexplicable night, he was asked to explain how he pitched so well.
Wagner, leading the National League in losses, came within one strike of pitching a no-hitter Tuesday night, finishing with a one-hitter as the Pirates beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-0, at Pittsburgh.
Only Andres Galarraga’s slow-rolling single on a 3-and-2, two-out pitch in the ninth inning, a tapper hit so softly that it barely skipped by a sprawling Wagner, prevented the league’s least-successful starter from getting his no-hitter.
“I saw the ball all the way. I saw every seam on every hop, but I just couldn’t get to it,” Wagner said. “I really thought I was going to get it. It was 3-2, two outs in the ninth and I remember thinking, ‘In this situation, the guy swings and misses and everything works out OK.’ ”
Galarraga, who had struck out twice and flied out, said, “It was kind of good pressure. I’m thinking I’ve got to do it. We don’t want to be no-hit. I didn’t really make solid contact, but once it was past the pitcher, I figured I had a chance.”
Until then, the Rockies, who lead the majors with 166 homers, had been so frustrated by Wagner’s 95-m.p.h. fastball and hard-breaking slider that NL home run leader Dante Bichette even tried to bunt in the seventh inning.
“I was getting tired, but when he did that--and he’s hitting .700 against me--I said, ‘Hey, somebody thinks I can do this,” said Wagner, who had never before pitched even a shutout in the majors. “I kicked everything into a different gear after that.”
Remarkably, Wagner (3-13) was winless in his previous 11 starts and was starting only because 11-game winner Denny Neagle has an eye infection.
Wagner didn’t come close to allowing a hit until the ninth inning, permitting only two balls out of the infield against a team that is leading the NL in hitting and was threatening to set a league record for home runs in a month.
Houston 11, Atlanta 9--The Astros ended their team-record 11-game losing streak, hitting five home runs in a game for the first time in nearly 18 years to beat the Braves in 13 innings at Atlanta.
Tony Eusebio led off the 13th with a home run, and the Astros added another run on a suicide-squeeze bunt by John Cangelosi.
The Astros, with only their fourth victory in 22 games, moved within half a game of Philadelphia and Colorado for the wild-card lead.
Cincinnati 4, St. Louis 1--Mariano Duncan hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Dave Burba gave up five hits over eight innings at Cincinnati as the Reds won for the fifth time in a row.
Duncan, subbing in left field for Ron Gant and batting cleanup, hit his fifth homer of the season after Barry Larkin singled with two outs.
Burba (9-2), who is 5-0 since being acquired from San Francisco on July 21, struck out seven and walked one.
San Francisco 6, Philadelphia 4--Barry Bonds doubled to the center-field wall in the seventh inning, driving in two runs to snap a tie as the Giants won at home.
Terry Mulholland (4-10) was the beneficiary of the Giants’ four-run outburst in the seventh, winning his second in a row after losing a career-high nine in a row. Rod Beck worked the ninth for his 25th save.
Chicago 10, Florida 6--Ozzie Timmons had two doubles and two RBIs at Miami as the Cubs handed the Marlins their first home loss since July 27.
Florida had won 14 consecutive home games, the longest streak in the National League since Philadelphia won 16 in a row at home in 1991.
Kevin Foster (9-9) beat the Marlins for the third time this year, giving up four hits, two runs and four walks over six innings.
Montreal 2, San Diego 1--Jeff Fassero recorded his career-high 13th victory and beat San Diego for the fourth time this season as the Expos defeated the Padres at San Diego.
Fassero (13-10) gave up one run and nine hits in 7 1/3 innings.