When hulking Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez sprinted to a triple in the third inning – just the fourth three-bagger of his four-year MLB career – the Tuesday night crowd at PNC Park couldn’t have anticipated a more unexpected moment in the game.
They got one in the bottom of the ninth, when light-hitting Josh Harrison launched an opposite-field game-ending home run to give the Pirates a tense 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins. Pittsburgh (68-44) has won three straight and seven out of nine on its current homestand.
Harrison, who had five career homers in 196 major-league games entering Tuesday, pinch hit for Garrett Jones against Marlins lefty Mike Dunn to lead off the ninth. Dunn had just escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the eighth, striking out Alvarez and getting Russell Martin to bounce into a double play to keep the game tied.
Against Harrison, Dunn threw a fastball up and away from the righty-swinging utilityman, who drove it just over the wall in right-center field for his second dinger of the season. The dramatic ending helped 27,907 Pirates partisans immediately forget about the wasted opportunity in the eighth.
The last-place Marlins (43-68) missed a chance of their own to take the lead in the top of the seventh. With runners at first and second, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen made a horizontal diving catch on Adeiny Hechavarria’s sinking drive to left-center, robbing Miami of at least one run. Two batters later, Pittsburgh reliever Vin Mazzaro got Jeff Mathis to fly out with the bases loaded.
Miami, which recently took two of three from the Bucs in south Florida, struck for three early runs against Pirates starter Jeff Locke. Logan Morrison and Donovan Solano picked up RBI singles in the visitors’ two-run third, which put Pittsburgh behind 3-0.
The Bucs bounced back in the bottom half with some two-out production from McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez against Miami’s Henderson Alvarez. Singles by Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker got the rally started, and McCutchen lofted a two-run double off the center-field wall to put the Pirates on the board.
Pedro followed with a liner into the gap in right-center, scoring McCutchen easily. When the ball reached the wall in front of the big Heinz ketchup bottle, “El Toro” bulled his way to third, barely sliding around the tag of Miami’s Ed Lucas.
Henderson Alvarez settled in after that, keeping the Pirates off balance through seven innings while striking out six. He had stifled the Pirates two weeks ago in Miami as the Marlins won that series opener 2-0, also against Locke.
Locke, who entered the game as the National League’s best qualifying starting pitcher in terms of allowing hits, got touched up for nine against the Marlins in 5 2/3 innings. Following Mazzaro’s escape act in the seventh, Tony Watson and Bryan Morris tossed a scoreless frame each.
The middle game of the three-game series will feature Charlie Morton on the mound for the Pirates. The Marlins will throw Tom Koehler against him, the same pitching matchup that resulted in a 7-4 Pittsburgh win on July 27.
Notes: The sub-30,000 attendance figure ended the Pirates’ 10-game streak of besting the number. Their previous game that didn’t attract at least 30K was July 10 against Oakland…Pittsburgh is 11-2 in a game following an off day…Harrison’s homer was the first allowed by the Marlins in 13 games, the longest streak of that kind in MLB since 1998…The Pirates maintained a two-game lead in the NL Central, as St. Louis also won Tuesday…The Bucs maintained baseball’s best record by percentage points over the Braves (69-45).