When Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez is locked in, he can single-handedly carry an offense.
He showed that ability once again Thursday afternoon by driving in all five of the Pirates runs en route to an impressive 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds to earn the Bucs a split in their four-game series against their division rival.
The Reds got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first when with one out, Joey Votto singled to left to score Shin-Soo Choo.
However the Bucs offense answered back to tie the score 1-1 at the top of the third when with two out, Alvarez singled to right to score Andrew McCutchen.
Cincinnati took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth as Jay Bruce hit a solo home run to center with two out, but Pittsburgh brought the game even again at the top of the sixth on Alvarez’s lead-off solo homer to right field. The game-tying blast was the 16th of the season for Alvarez.
The game stayed tied at two until the top of the seventh, when the Pirates took the lead for the first time. With the bases filled with Pirates and one out, Reds manager Dusty Baker turned to left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani, who made Garrett Jones look foolish in striking him out.
However, despite Cingrani having success against Alvarez earlier in the series, “El Toro” turned around a fastball into the right field corner to drive in three runs and give the Bucs a lead they would not relinquish.
Cincinnati answered back in the bottom of the seventh as Jack Hannahan’s ground out to second scored Zack Cozart to make it a 5-3 game.
Pirates reliever Tony Watson came on to face Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Bruce in the eighth inning and retired them in order fairly easily, which led Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to run Watson out for the ninth inning to earn his second career save.
Rookie Brandon Crumpton made his second career start for the Pirates and allowed five hits and two runs (one earned) in five innings of work.
The Reds’ Homer Bailey faced the Pirates for the first time since his no-hitter at PNC Park last September and left after six innings with the score tied at 2. He gave up six hits, throwing 113 pitches. Bailey was 8-2 career against the Pirates entering Thursday’s game.
Morris picked up the win to improve to 4-2 on the season while Alfredo Simon (5-3) was tagged with the loss.
The Pirates remain a half-game behind second-place Cincinnati after the four-game set, keeping them virtually shoulder-to-shoulder as they chase the red hot St. Louis Cardinals.
The Bucs leave from Cincinnati today and head to California where they will take on the Angels in a three-game series beginning on Friday night. Los Angeles (32-40) will send right hander Jered Weaver (1-3, 4.41 ERA) to the hill while Pittsburgh will counter with right hander Gerrit Cole (2-0, 3.75).
It will be the third start of the season for the 22-year-old rookie Cole; he is just the fourth Pirates pitcher in 50 years to win his first two starts. The game will be broadcast on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The Bucs recalled right hander Duke Welker from Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday. In 25 games this season, Welker has gone 3-1 with three saves and a 2.78 ERA. He was recalled back on May 8th, but was optioned back on May 11th, without appearing in a big league game. Outfielder Alex Presley was optioned back to down to Triple-A to make room for Welker…Pittsburgh is 17-17 on the road this season…Justin Wilson ranks first among National League relievers in innings pitches with 41.2…Going into Thursday’s game, Jason Grilli’s 53 strikeouts rank second to the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman’s 55 for the most strikeouts among MLB relievers this season.
Larry Snyder contributed to this report.