PITTSBURGH – Jason Bay homered for the fourth consecutive game and drove in four runs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates had a season-high 16 hits in beating Houston 12-5 Friday night, the Astros’ fourth consecutive loss.

Pirates rookie Ronny Paulino, enjoying a much better game than the opposing catcher did against the Astros the day before, had his first four-hit game in the majors. Craig Wilson and Jose Castillo also homered during a three-homer third inning against Taylor Buchholz (3-4), who shut out the Pirates for 8 2-3 innings the last time he opposed them.

The Pirates had lost six of seven and were coming off yet another terrible road trip – they are 4-22 away from PNC Park – but they didn’t look like a team off to its worst start (15-33) in 52 years.

Bay had a run-scoring single in the third as the Pirates began to rally from a 4-1 deficit, then followed with a three-run drive in the seven-run fourth that put the Pirates up 8-4. Bay has eight homers in 31 at-bats in eight games, including two two-homer games, and is the first Pirate to homer in four consecutive game since Barry Bonds from Aug. 18-21, 1987.

Bay got off to a relatively slow start – he was hitting .250 on May 3 – but has 25 RBIs in his last 13 games and has jumped his average to .304.

Buchholz, who grew up near Philadelphia and had plenty of family members in the stands, was coming off a career-first 5-0 shutout of the Texas Rangers on Sunday only to quickly give away a three-run lead supplied by Morgan Ensberg’s 17th homer.

Jeromy Burnitz doubled ahead of Castillo’s third homer, tying it at 4, and Freddy Sanchez had a run-scoring grounder before Bay hit his 14th homer. Craig Wilson followed Bay’s drive with his ninth homer, bringing on reliever Mike Gallo.

Buchholz, who got his first career victory against Pittsburgh on April 22, saw his ERA climb from 4.35 to 5.57. He gave up 11 hits and nine runs in 3 2-3 innings.

All those runs allowed Pirates starter Ian Snell (4-3) to last 5 2-3 innings, even though he gave up 10 hits and five runs. He has won four of his last five decisions despite lasting fewer than six innings four times.

Paulino wasn’t on the Pirates’ season-opening roster and wasn’t expected to make much of an impact this season, but has won the everyday job by playing well defensively and batting above .300. He doubled in the Pirates’ first run in the second, then followed with three consecutive singles.

The Astros lost 8-5 Thursday in Washington, despite stealing seven bases – forcing Nationals manager Frank Robinson to pull backup catcher Matthew LeCroy in the middle of an inning.

Notes: The Astros had won their last six against Pittsburgh. … The Astros have dropped eight of 11 overall and 10 of 12 on the road since May 2. They are 7-15 away from Houston. … Pirates 1B Sean Casey went 0-for-3 during the first game of a rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Altoona. He hadn’t played since breaking two bones in his back April 14. … The Pirates had 15 hits in a game twice this season.

AP-ES-05-26-06 2220EDT