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Pirates continue sizzling start by edging Brewers, 5-4

Getty Images - Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates with Michael McKenry after their 5-4 win over the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates with Michael McKenry after their 5-4 win over the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez throws against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning of a baseball game on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez throws against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning of a baseball game on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.
AP - The Brewers' Norichika Aoki flies out for the final out during the ninth inning against the Pirates on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Brewers' Norichika Aoki flies out for the final out during the ninth inning against the Pirates on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Wandy Rodriguez pitches in the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Wandy Rodriguez pitches in the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen watches his broken-bat single against the Brewers during the first inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen watches his broken-bat single against the Brewers during the first inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen breaks his bat on single in the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen breaks his bat on single in the first inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hits a two-run double against the Brewers during the third inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hits a two-run double against the Brewers during the third inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
Getty Images - Pirates catcher Michael McKenry crosses home plate on a triple by Jordy Mercer during the second inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates catcher Michael McKenry crosses home plate on a triple by Jordy Mercer during the second inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Starling Marte celebrates with Gaby Sanchez after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Garrett Jones in the third inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte celebrates with Gaby Sanchez after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Garrett Jones in the third inning against the Brewers on Sunday, May 26, 2013.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Neil Walker turns a double play as the Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy slides into second base during the fourth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Neil Walker turns a double play as the Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy slides into second base during the fourth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - The Pirates' Starling Marte (6), Andrew McCutchen and Travis Snider (23) react after the final out against the Brewers in the ninth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Starling Marte (6), Andrew McCutchen and Travis Snider (23) react after the final out against the Brewers in the ninth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - The Brewers' Rickie Weeks forces out the Pirates' Neil Walker at second base during the third inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Brewers' Rickie Weeks forces out the Pirates' Neil Walker at second base during the third inning Sunday, May 26, 2013.
AP - The Brewers' Carlos Gomez loses his helmet while swinging at a pitch and Pirates catcher Michael McKenry loses his mask during the eighth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Brewers' Carlos Gomez loses his helmet while swinging at a pitch and Pirates catcher Michael McKenry loses his mask during the eighth inning Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Milwaukee.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

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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