Pirates defeat Brewers for 8th consecutive win

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

The Pirates will play game No. 81 on Sunday, marking the midway point of the season. No one has to tell them how much baseball remains to be played.

But the fact remains that the Pirates are doing some remarkable things. They woke up Saturday morning with the best record in baseball, and by the time the day was over they'd be the first team in the majors to reach 50 wins with their eighth consecutive victory, 2-1, over the Milwaukee Brewers. It's a mark they didn't reach until July 17 last year, July 18 in 2011 and Sept. 18 in 2010.

It is also the first time in franchise history that the Pirates have had 50 wins prior to July 1. The closest they'd come to racking up that many victories before July was in 1971, when the eventual World Series champs won their 50th game of the year July 1.

Saturday's win in front of the fifth sellout crowd in a row at PNC Park came thanks to solo home runs by Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones and a six-inning, one-run performance by starter Francisco Liriano (7-3).

Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli combined for three scoreless innings. Grilli earned his National League-leading 27th save to the delight of the 38,438 in attendance.

They don't break trophies in half, as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put it before the game. But that doesn't mean they can't enjoy their success to this point.

“I think you have to acknowledge it's the best season we've had in 20 years … so far,” Hurdle said. “Be easy to please, hard to satisfy. The players are that way; I'm that way. Yes, we're happy with what we've done but we understand there's many more miles on this road to travel, and the lessons we've learned from the past two years are instrumental and I think going to be a strength for us moving forward.”

Liriano made it 15 games in a row in which Pirates' starters have given up no more than three earned runs. They have a 2.34 ERA during the stretch.

“I just want to go out there and try to do my job every five days,” Liriano said. “We're just having fun, playing hard and giving it everything we have.”

The Brewers had a rookie on the mound for the third straight game: right-hander Donovan Hand (0-1). The 27-year-old made his 11th appearance but only his second start of the year.

Hand gave up two runs and five hits in five innings, but those two runs were all the Pirates needed.

Alvarez's 20th home run of the season traveled 445 feet, was slowed up in a tree on the slope toward the Riverwalk and rolled into the Allegheny River. Not only did he extend his hitting streak to a career-best 12 games and give his team the lead, but also became the first Pirates player to hit 10 or more home runs in June since Richie Hebner in 1975. He trails only Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez and Philadelphia's Domonic Brown, both with 21, for the most home runs in the National League.

Jones hit his home run in the fourth, burying the ball in the bushes in center field.

It was Jones' first home run since blasting one 463 feet into the river June 2.

Carlos Gomez hit a leadoff triple in the fourth inning but was thrown out at home with one out. Liriano gave up consecutive one-out singles in the sixth to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Jonathan Lucroy flied out to center, but Yuniesky Betancourt snapped a hitless streak of 16 at-bats with an RBI single to right that made it a one-run game.

“We're playing some good baseball,” Hurdle said. “We just continue to try to meet the demands of the game. … We're heading in the right direction.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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