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Series win in L.A. could spark Pirates

| Monday, June 2, 2014, 10:21 p.m.
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The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen scores in the first inning against the Dodgers on Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Los Angeles.

SAN DIEGO — Will a stunning series against the Los Angeles Dodgers spark the Pirates for the second season in a row?

Late Sunday night, the Pirates played a textbook game and outlasted the Dodgers, 5-3, on ESPN's national broadcast. The Pirates took three of four games — beating pitchers Dan Haren, Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke — to snap their 13-series losing streak in Los Angeles.

It's the first time the Pirates won a series at Dodger Stadium since 2000, when they went 4-2 over two trips to the West Coast.

Suddenly, a 10-game road trip that could have poisoned any hopes of getting back to the playoffs now seems like a launching pad.

“It's good for us because we flat-out believe we can play,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We knew what we were facing, and we out-pitched them for three days. We played three really clean ballgames, as far as doing what you need to do when it's time to get something done.

“We have confidence, we have enough edge and grit that we just like to play. I think that showed up here this weekend. It was one of those things we needed to knock off our to-do list, and we were able to do it.”

In 2013, the Pirates limped into Dodger Stadium after opening the season with two losses in three games at home against the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers hammered the Pirates, outscoring them 10-2 to sweep a three-game set.

Reeling with a 1-5 record, the Pirates went to Arizona, where Hurdle held a closed-door meeting with the team. His message was motivational: don't let those three losses in L.A. define the season.

It was the last time all season the Pirates were as many as four games under .500. They won 14 of their next 19 games and moved into first place in the NL Central.

Last week, the Pirates slunk into Los Angeles with a 23-29 record after a pair of ugly losses against the New York Mets.

But, after his club outplayed the Dodgers, Hurdle likely gave a very different kind of speech Monday before beginning the final leg of the journey against the San Diego Padres.

The Pirates probably can't play a more complete game than they did Sunday. Andrew McCutchen had three hits, all for extra bases. Josh Harrison smacked another home run. Right-hander Edinson Volquez was steady. Relievers Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon combined for three hitless innings.

“We're in a better place than we've been all year,” Hurdle said. “The lineup is together. The starting pitchers are making some adjustments. The bullpen is solid. The position players are playing well.”

No one was better Sunday than McCutchen, who always seems to find a way to produce on the big stage. The seven talking heads ESPN stationed around the ballpark wanted to talk all night about Dodgers spark plug Yasiel Puig, but McCutchen stole the show.

“It's just good, regardless of whether it's on national TV or not,” McCutchen said. “It's good that we're able to get three out of four against a really good team. It's a step in the right direction. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going into San Diego.”

A series win against the Padres would give the Pirates plenty of push heading into a weekend showdown against the first-place Brewers at PNC Park. Plus, there is the very real possibility top prospect Gregory Polanco will make his Pirates debut during that seven-game homestand.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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