Alvarez blast propels Pirates past Astros
The home run Pedro Alvarez hit Sunday afternoon was not the longest, loudest or most majestic of his career. But given the context of when it was hit, it was huge.
Alvarez's solo homer backed another terrific outing by left-hander Jeff Locke, as the Pirates held on for a 1-0 victory against the Houston Astros at PNC Park.
With one out in the fifth inning, Alvarez jumped on a first-pitch sinker from right-hander Lucas Harrell and sent it down the left-field line. The ball wasn't hit especially high or deep. It simply got out of the park.
“I knew it was going to be fair, but I didn't know if it was going to carry as much as it did,” Alvarez said.
Hugging the line, the ball traveled 330 feet in a hurry. It happened so quickly that it took a moment for the crowd of 28,471 to raise its applause.
“It got out in the blink of an eye,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That's maybe the shortest home run he's hit. He hit one of his furthest ones the other night.”
Alvarez smacked a 462-foot monster Friday that splashed down in the Allegheny River and ignited a late-game rally.
Sunday's homer wasn't as titanic, but it was no less effective. Until Alvarez went deep, the Pirates were hitless — they hadn't even gotten a ball out of the infield — against Harrell (3-5).
“It was a sinker down and away,” Harrell said. “I thought it was a really good pitch. He went down and got it. He's a big, strong guy, and he slapped it the out the other way. There's not much you can do about that.”
Harrell yielded only 13 home runs in 193 2⁄3 innings last season. He ranked fifth in the majors with 0.60 homers allowed per nine innings.
As good as Harrell was Sunday, Locke was better. Locke (4-1) worked seven innings and gave up three hits, walked two and struck out four. He lowered his ERA to 2.73, nearly 2 1⁄2 runs lower than it was a month ago.
“It was that kind of game where whichever team pushed across a run, that was going to be it,” Locke said.
It was the third time in nine starts this season that Locke did not allow a run. He's gone at least six innings in five of his past six outings.
Locke did not allow a hit until Carlos Corporan singled to lead off the fifth inning. The Astros did not get a baserunner past second base against him. The Astros entered the game with a .287 batting average against lefties, including a .389 surge in a nine-game span from May 9-18.
Locke did not have his best stuff. The sinker, his most effective pitch this season, resisted Locke's attempts to get it in the strike zone.
“At times, he had to slow down and make sure his mechanics were in tune,” catcher Michael McKenry said. “He did a good job throwing some pitches he doesn't ordinarily throw.”
With a runner on first base in the seventh inning, Locke stunned Corporan with a 3-2 changeup that netted a swinging strikeout. Locke then got Jimmy Paredes to ground into a double play.
The Pirates missed a scoring chance in the sixth. Starling Marte — a late addition to the lineup after Andrew McCutchen was scratched due to a sore right knee — grounded to deep short. Marte slid into first base and was out; he probably would have beaten the throw had he kept running.
“It's never faster to dive than to run through,” Hurdle said. “We don't ever encourage a head-first slide.”
Travis Snider doubled. With two outs, Gaby Sanchez singled to center. Third base coach Nick Leyva waved Snider home, but Brandon Barnes fielded the ball cleanly and fired a one-hopper that easily beat Snider to the plate.
Snider bulled into Corporan, hoping to dislodge the ball, but the catcher held his ground and held onto the ball. After the collision, Snider and Corporan bumped fists in a show of mutual respect.
“A clean play,” Corporan said after the game.