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Pirates extend winning streak to 5 games with shutout of Marlins

| Sunday, July 22, 2012, 4:50 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens delivers against the Marlins on Sunday July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez hits a two-run home run against the Marlins on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Marlins on Sunday July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Casey McGehee tags out the Marlins' Jose Reyes on a pick-off during the first inning Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Casey McGehee gives the Zoltan sign to the dugout after hitting a double on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. McGehee was traded on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, to the New York Yankees. In his time with the Pirates, McGehee batted .230 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen singles against the Marlins on Sunday July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates left fielder Alex Presley makes a diving play in center field during the seventh inning against the Marlins on Sunday July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates left fielder Alex Presley makes a running catch to end the eighth inning against the Marlins on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner
Pirates reliever Joel Hanrahan closes out a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins on Sunday July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens delivers against the Marlins Sunday July 22, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez talks with Andrew McCutchen in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Marlins on Sunday, July 22, 2012, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

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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