The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t won 80 games in any of their past 20 seasons, but they also hadn’t won 50 of their first 80 since 1972. The latter streak is over, meaning the former may not be long for this world.
Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones launched solo home runs and Francisco Liriano turned in another effective start, as the Pirates squeezed past the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Saturday night for their eighth consecutive victory. Pittsburgh is now 50-30, its best record at this point of the season in four decades.
With their latest win, the Pirates can also enjoy their second straight day alone in first place in the National League Central. St. Louis is a game back at 49-31, although the Cardinals still hold the second-best record in all of Major League Baseball.
But the Pirates are tops in MLB, and their pitching has led the way for much of the year. Saturday at another sold-out PNC Park was no exception, with Liriano limiting the Brewers (32-47) to one run on seven hits through six innings. The 29-year-old lefty struck out six and walked only one while lowering his ERA to 2.23.
The Bucco bullpen was solid as usual, combining for three hitless innings to preserve the narrow margin. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli accounted for a frame apiece, capped by Grilli’s MLB-leading 27th save in his first appearance since last Sunday.
Alvarez connected for a monster bomb inside the right-field foul pole in the second inning, reaching the Allegheny River on a bounce for his team-leading 20th of the year. The blast off Brewers rookie Donovan Hand increased his career-best hitting streak to 12 games, during which his batting average has increased from .212 to .247.
Jones cleared the center-field wall with a moon-scraper of his own in the bottom of the fourth, his seventh. Despite the twin homers against Hand, the 27-year-old right-hander permitted just five hits in his five innings.
Yuniesky Betancourt drove in Milwaukee’s only run in the sixth, scoring Carlos Gomez with a single to right-center. The Brewers went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position against Liriano, who danced out of trouble frequently during his 91-pitch outing.
The Milwaukee bullpen held Pittsburgh to one hit after Hand departed, but two runs was enough for the Pirates to improve to 15-5 since getting swept in Atlanta three weeks ago. Saturday marked the first time in the winning streak – the team’s longest since 2004 – that Pittsburgh hadn’t scored four runs or more.
The Bucs and Brew Crew wrap up their three-game series Sunday afternoon at 1:35 as Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton will challenge Kyle Lohse. The Pirates will look to collect their ninth win in 13 tries against the Brewers, their nemesis in recent years.
Notes: Attendance was 38,438 in the Pirates’ fifth straight sellout at PNC Park. Pittsburgh is averaging 23,554 in 39 home dates (61.4 percent capacity)…The Pirates are 27-13 on the North Shore, tying them with Boston for the most home wins in the majors…Although Pittsburgh won the race to 50 wins, Boston and St. Louis each have 49, while Texas, Oakland and Atlanta have 47 apiece.