MILWAUKEE — The Pittsburgh Pirates had timely hitting, but a key double play helped even more.
Andrew McCutchen, Jody Mercer and Josh Bell each drove in two runs and the Pirates preserved their faint playoff hopes with a 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.
The Pirates won their fifth straight at Miller Park, and fifth of six overall to improve to .500 (75-75) for the first time since they were 69-69 on Sept. 8. Pittsburgh began the day five games behind San Francisco for the second NL wild card spot and St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins in between the Pirates and Giants.
McCutchen’s two-run double in the first staked rookie left-hander Steven Brault to an early lead. Then, Bell’s two-run single in the top of fifth chased starter Matt Garza (5-8).
Staked to a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, Brault walked Jonathan Villar who stole second and moved to third on Orlando Arcia’s single to center. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made a move to his bullpen and brought in Jared Hughes (1-1) to face Chris Carter.
“It is first and third with nobody out in the fifth,” Hurdle said. “Where we are in the season right now, I felt (Brault) gave us (enough.) It is a sticky situation.”
Carter lined Hughes’ first pitch at third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who fielded the ball cleanly and turned it into a double play that deflated the rally. Hughes struck out Domingo Santana to end the threat.
“We ended up scoring a run, but that’s two outs right there on one pitch,” Carter said. “He ended up (retiring) the next guy. That kind of changed the momentum right there.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell was even more emphatic.
“That was a big play,” he said. “We had guys on first and second and got to their bullpen. Chris hit a ball hard, and he made a nice play. That certainly was the play of the game, for sure.”
The Brewers went quietly the rest of the way against the Pirates’ bullpen.
“You want guys who can come in and have some experience and take care of it from there,” Hurdle said.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Wade LeBlanc pitched the sixth which ended on another double play. Juan Nicasio set the side down in order in the seventh. Antonio Bastardo struck out two in the eighth and Tony Watson tossed a perfect ninth for his 14th save in 17 chances.
Brault was making his seventh career start and had already lost twice to the Brewers. He allowed Santana’s run-scoring double in the third and Martin Maldonado’s home run in the fourth. Brault scattered five hits, struck out four, walked two and was three outs from his first major-league win.
“Even though I couldn’t go the five and get the win, I kept my team in it,” Brault said. “We got the win. We are making a playoff push, that is all that really matters right now.”
Mercer produced run-scoring singles in the fourth and sixth.
Adam Frazier went 3 for 4, scored twice and extended his streak of reaching base safely to 10 straight games for the Pirates.
Garza allowed five runs and eight hits over four innings. He walked two and struck out two while slipping to 1-3 in four starts against the Pirates this season
The Brewers had won 11 of 17 since the Pirates’ four-game sweep in Milwaukee at the end of August, with home and away series victories over the NL Central Champion Chicago Cubs.
NICASIO SETS A FRANCHISE RECORD
RHP Juan Nicasio has recorded at least one strikeout in 30 straight appearances, a single-season club record for a Pirates relief pitcher. According to Elias, it’s the longest such streak in the majors this season and ties Cody Allen’s record with Cleveland in 2015.
FEELING RIGHT AT HOME
McCutchen’s two-run double in the first extended his hitting streak to eight games and gave him 48 RBIs in 62 career games at Miller Park.
Opponents have roughed up Garza for 26 runs (16 earned) in his last seven starts. He is 1-4 with a 4.00 ERA over that stretch.
NEW BREWERS DADS
LF Ryan Braun and C Manny Pina were out of the lineup in order to be with their wives and the newest member of his respective family. Braun’s wife, Larisa, gave birth to a son, Greyson Joseph. Pina’s wife, Leny, gave birth to a daughter, Jimena. However, Pina pinch hit in the ninth and flied out to end the game. Both players were expected back before the weekend.
Pirates: C Chris Stewart underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to be out six-to-eight weeks. Dr. James Andrews operated on the 34-year-old catcher in Gulf Shores, Florida. … LF Starling Marte missed his 15th consecutive game with low back discomfort.
Brewers: The Brewers selected the contract of C/1B Josmil Pinto from Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (4-3, 3.97 ERA) makes his 12th major-league start. The 24-year-old right-hander is 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA in one career outing against the Brewers.
Brewers: RHP Jimmy Nelson (8-14, 4.42) makes his 10th career start against the Pirates. He is 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in his previous nine starts, including 1-0 with a 4.80 ERA ibn three starts this season.