Jun 3, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstopJordy Mercer
(10) rounds the bases on a solo home run against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Less than 72 hours after a slightly disappointing four-game split in San Diego, the Pittsburgh Pirates jumped right back on the gas pedal in San Francisco, sweeping the defending World Series champion Giants to improve to 11-2 over the past two weeks.
Following a pair of come-from-behind nighttime wins to open the three-game series at AT&T Park, the Pirates (29-24) rallied for another one Wednesday afternoon. After falling behind 1-0 in the third inning, Pittsburgh plated single runs in the fourth and fifth to take the lead, then piled on with three in the ninth for a 5-2 victory.
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Jordy Mercer and Jung Ho Kang had the most significant hits of the day, as the former stroked his second homer of the series to give the Pirates the lead for good, while the latter drove in two in the ninth with a pinch-hit double.
After a bit of a hiccup from A.J. Burnett in Tuesday’s 7-4 win, Francisco Liriano got the Pirates’ starting pitching back in the groove with seven innings of four-hit ball. The lefty Liriano whiffed six and walked one, with opposing starter Tim Hudson notching the only extra-base hit off him, a third-inning double.
Joe Panik gave the Giants (30-25) a 1-0 advantage when he singled in Hudson with two outs in the third; San Francisco led 2-0 in each of the previous two games before being overtaken by the streaking Pirates.
The Bucs struck again when Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata lined consecutive singles up the middle in the fourth, then Mercer launched his second solo bomb in as many days to left-center in the fifth.
Liriano departed after seven mostly anxiety-free innings, although he had to navigate errors by first baseman Pedro Alvarez and shortstop Mercer in his final frame. Pirates starters have been tagged with only one loss in two weeks: Jeff Locke‘s seven-run blowup Sunday night in San Diego.
The situation got even tighter in the bottom of the eighth with Jared Hughes on the mound. Nori Aoki and Panik reached on singles to lead off the inning, seemingly giving the Giants three shots to tie the game at least.
In the top of the ninth, Francisco Cervelli drove in pinch-runner Starling Marte with a ground-ball single to left, opening up a 3-1 lead. Mercer ripped a double down the third-base line, bringing on tricky Giants reliever Sergio Romo to face Kang, who stepped off the bench and lined an outside slider into left-center for a 5-1 lead.
Pirates rookie righty Rob Scahill made a mess in the bottom half, allowing three straight hits with one out to force Mark Melancon into the game. The veteran continued his recent success by inducing a pair of grounders to first, giving him his 16th save.
Pittsburgh remains six games behind the first-place Cardinals, but it leaped ahead of Chicago for second place in the National League Central. After going 5-2 on the Pacific coast, the Pirates will conclude their season-long 10-game road trip in Atlanta over the weekend.
It’s tempting to assign more meaning to this sweep because of who it came against, but the most important thing is that the Bucs continue to overcome a lackluster start that left them with an 18-22 record through 40 games.
Two weeks later, after their first sweep in San Francisco since 2004, the Pirates are even with the Giants and Mets for the NL’s top wild-card spot.