In a season of highlights for Josh Harrison, Friday night in Milwaukee may have topped them all.
Harrison drove in a career-high five runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 8-3 victory at Miller Park in the opener of a critical series against the first-place Brewers. The former bench player – now the Bucs’ starting third baseman – slammed a two-run double in the second, an RBI single in the fourth and a clinching two-run homer in the eighth.
Harrison’s first two hits helped the Pirates (66-62) punish Milwaukee starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who has had more than his share of success against Pittsburgh in his career. Harrison’s home run (VIDEO), a blast to left off reliever Marco Estrada, was the 11th of his unexpected breakout season.
Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte rapped two hits apiece as the Pirates claimed their second win in a row after a seven-game losing streak dropped them seven games behind Milwaukee (71-57) in the National League Central. Now the Bucs trail by five, with two games left in Wisconsin this weekend.
Pittsburgh was fortunate to get six innings from erratic starter Jeff Locke. He walked a season-high six and never seemed at ease with his mechanics, but he allowed just two hits. Locke danced through a Brewers lineup that helped him with several swings on out-of-the-zone pitches.
His run support was plentiful, headlined by Harrison’s pair of two-out RBI knocks and a mammoth home run to right-center from Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates trailed 2-0 in the first on Ryan Braun‘s 16th round-tripper, but they scored eight straight runs to take command.
Instead of succumbing to bad Miller Park memories, the Pirates patiently pecked away at Gallardo, who battled poor control all night. An error and consecutive walks to Gaby Sanchez and Marte loaded the bases with none out in the second. Jordy Mercer lofted a sacrifice fly to center, followed by Harrison’s two-out double over Braun in right that scored a pair and put Pittsburgh in front (VIDEO).
While Locke found a small groove to retire Milwaukee in order in the second and third innings, the Pirates posted a couple more runs to lead 5-2. McCutchen’s infield single in the third preceded Walker’s run-scoring triple down the right-field line, then Harrison drove in Marte in the fourth with a single to center.
Good fortune carried Locke through the fourth, with the Brewers twice lining out to left with runners on base. It was more of the same in the fifth, as Jean Segura got caught too far off first base on a foul pop-up by Carlos Gomez. Sanchez and Locke teamed up to double off the Milwaukee shortstop before he could return to the bag.
Between those escapes, McCutchen increased the Pirates’ lead to four runs with a towering opposite-field homer, his 18th of the season and first since returning from the disabled list Tuesday. Last year’s National League MVP had gone hitless in his first two games back from a broken rib, but finished 2 for 5 Friday.
Locke did his best to give back some of the lead in the sixth. After getting the first two outs, the left-hander walked Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis to give Rickie Weeks an RBI opportunity. Weeks bounced a grounder to the left side of the infield, where shortstop Mercer flipped to third baseman Harrison for a questionable out call to apparently end the inning.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke challenged the play, but MLB headquarters wasn’t convinced by the replay angles available. Harrison twice stabbed toward the base with his foot, giving at least the impression that he missed it the first time. Nonetheless, the out was upheld to the displeasure of the Brewers and their fans.
Jared Hughes was the beneficiary of strong Pirates defending in the seventh. With one out, Walker crossed onto the left side of second base to nab Segura on a slow grounder; with two gone, Harrison retrieved Gomez’s hard grounder off Hughes’ leg with a brilliant bare-hand grab and throw.
Former Brewers closer John Axford allowed a run in the eighth and Justin Wilson walked a pair in the ninth, but Milwaukee couldn’t make it interesting enough to engage the Pirates’ better bullpen arms.