Pirates continue sizzling start by edging Brewers, 5-4

Travis Sawchik
| Sunday, May 26, 2013, 6:00 p.m.

MILWAUKEE — If the Pirates continue to win as they did Sunday in Milwaukee, securing a rare series win at Miller Park with a 5-4 victory, the comparisons to the 1992 team — the club's last winning season — will inevitably continue to arise.

But you have to go further back to find a Pirates team with a better run through 50 games than this year's group, which improved to 31-19. You have to go back to the 1991 team, which posted a 33-17 record through 50 games. The 1991 club went on to win 98 games and the NL East title.

Whether the Pirates can have another 50-game stretch anything like their first 50 figures to be more difficult; 17 of their next 23 games are against teams either in first place or within a half-game of first entering Sunday. But if the Pirates continue to pitch as well as they have over the first 50 games, and if they continue to pitch well enough in tough road environments like they did Sunday, they'll likely continue the comparison.

“We're 50 games into the season, so there are no finished stories,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “(But) we're getting a little bit better.”

Pirates left-hander Wandy Rodriguez entered Sunday's game with a 6.11 ERA on the road this season compared to 1.93 at home. Extreme home-road splits are nothing new for Rodriguez, who owns a 4.70 career road ERA compared to his 3.40 ERA rate at home.

Rodriguez endured his worst start of the season April 29 at Miller Park. He allowed seven runs, and three home runs in 3 23 innings.

But the lefty kept the ball in the hitter-friendly park Sunday, and against the Brewers' tough right-handed dominant lineup. He began with four scoreless innings, stranding several baserunners in scoring position.

“The only easy inning he had was the first,” Hurdle said. “He wasn't sharp, but he got the job done.”

In the fifth, the Brewers loaded the bases with three singles. With two outs, Ryan Braun roped a three-run double down the line and cut the Pirates' lead to 4-3. But it was the only damage allowed by Rodriguez (6-2), who gave up just three hits in the first four innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out four.

The bullpen held the lead, and the Pirates improved to 29-0 when leading after eight innings.

“They're not robots,” Hurdle said of his bullpen. “I say that to (the media) a lot, but I have to remind myself, too.”

Vin Mazzaro pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh. Setup man Mark Melancon entered in the eighth and gave up just his third run of the season. Jeff Bianchi tripled with one out and scored on Carlos Gomez's sacrifice fly, but Melancon got the Pirates through the eighth with a 5-4 lead.

“With Melancon, it's less than 15 pitches almost every time out,” Hurdle said. “I think you saw a completely different (Jason) Grilli today than the guy who closed the last game at home as far as the stuff he brought out there with a little bit of a breather.”

Grilli pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his league-best 20th save.

“I think we are handling our business pretty calmly in tight ballgames,” Grilli said. “You crave it.”

The run support came early. Shortstop Jordy Mercer went 3 for 4, including a two-out RBI triple in the second.

In the third, Starling Marte doubled and scored on Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly. Gaby Sanchez walked, and Andrew McCutchen, who recorded his sixth multi-hit game in his last eight, scored on Pedro Alvarez's two-run double to give the Pirates a 4-0 lead.

Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo's struggles continued; he didn't pitch into the fifth inning.

The Pirates added a pivotal fifth run in the sixth on Marte's sacrifice fly, giving the Pirates a rare series win at Miller Park — and a rare 50-game start to a campaign.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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