Before his club’s fifth shutout loss in 44 games and a tight 1-0 defeat to the Pirates on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, Astros manager Bo Porter showed extra interest in a reporter’s question.

The Astros’ upside-down record (12-32) doesn’t show any on-the-field improvement, but the young club continues to play with passion for its first-year leader.

In addition, the team had moved from early-season blowouts with starting pitchers who couldn’t make it through one inning to close, winnable games the Astros were nearly turning into victories.
Asked for his personal number of near wins during the past 15 to 20 games, a man who takes pride in recording daily break points on lineup cards smiled, then deferred his answer to the end of the 2013 season.

“That’s not for public information,” Porter said. “But I do have it. Ask me at the end of the year.”

After Pirates lefthander Jeff Locke (4-1) barely outdueled Astros righthander Lucas Harrell (3-5) during the three-game series finale, the Astros’ surprising close-win total is at seven since the club bottomed out with a 7-18 record in Boston, which came after an embarrassing four-game Red Sox sweep at Fenway Park.

Since then, the Astros have gone 5-14.

They dropped the series to the Pirates 2-1, went 2-4 on their six-game road trip and are on pace for a 44-118 record.

But among the Astros’ last 14 losses, six were by one run, and another came in a 14-inning home defeat to the Detroit Tigers.

The close calls aren’t about could’ve, should’ve, would’ve or already tired lessons through losing.

The Astros’ record is what it is, the team is tied with the Marlins for the worst mark in Major League Baseball, and there’s no clear hope on the horizon for a young, rebuilding club whose best news Sunday was that top prospect Jonathan Singleton is about a week away from beginning his stalled minor league season.