Pirates extend winning streak to 5 games with shutout of Marlins

| Sunday, July 22, 2012, 4:50 p.m.

Unlike any other player in the Pirates' clubhouse, Jeff Karstens can remember those ugly, brutal days.

He was around for the 95-loss season in 2008, the 99-loss team in '09 and the 105-loss disaster two years ago.

Karstens doesn't remind his teammates of what they missed, but he did want to say something to the fans Sunday.

“All these (players) weren't here when I was here,” he said. “To come out here and see the crowds we are getting, it definitely means a lot. We are battling for the city of Pittsburgh.”

Buoyed by Karstens' seven scoreless innings, the Pirates continued to put those woeful seasons behind them with a 3-0 victory over the Miami Marlins.

By completing a three-game sweep, the Pirates (54-40) extended their winning streak to a season-best five games and kept pace with the NL Central-leading Reds (55-40), who defeated the Brewers, 2-1, to stay a half-game ahead.

Pedro Alvarez hit his 21st home run, and Andrew McCutchen was 2 for 4 to raise his MLB-best batting average to .372. The Pirates are 21-4 in their past 25 games at PNC Park; Chicago visits Monday to open a three-game series.

“We've proven we can win the close games,” left fielder Alex Presley said.

The Marlins advanced one runner past first base after the first inning, when they left the bases loaded. They are batting 3 for 33 (.091) with runners in scoring position during their five-game losing streak.

“I don't know what to say anymore,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. “We can't do anything on offense. You just shake your head.”

The Pirates, who are 16-5 in their past 21 games, used the same ingredients that have defined their surge: pitching, defense and the long ball.

Alvarez's two-run homer in the seventh gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead in a duel between Karstens (3-2) and Marlins righty Anibal Sanchez (5-7). Karstens settled down after a 28-pitch first inning to win his third straight decision. In his past four starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA.

Again, the Pirates played flawless defense. Right fielder Garrett Jones, shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Neil Walker made pivotal plays.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Today we were able to make some plays.”

The biggest came following a call in the seventh that had the crowd of 34,203 cheering one moment and booing the next. With the Pirates leading, 1-0, and the Marlins' Logan Morrison on second base, Presley made an apparent diving catch to rob Greg Dobbs. But after conferring, the umpires ruled — and replays confirmed — that the ball hit the ground.

As boos rained down, Dobbs was awarded a single and Morrison stayed at second base. But on the next pitch, Karstens got Omar Infante to hit into an inning-ending double play.

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jgrupp@tribweb.com or 412-320-7930.

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