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Pirates hold off Diamondbacks' rally for win

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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.

Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011

PHOENIX — The signs were there. It was just a matter of time before Pedro Alvarez started to produce at the plate.

Alvarez hit a towering, solo home run Tuesday in the Pirates' 5-3 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was the first time he'd gone deep in nearly two months.

But what was even more impressive — and perhaps an even bigger boost for Alvarez's confidence — was his defense at third base.

"I've always tried to separate the two," Alvarez said. "If I'm not hitting well, I want to play good defense. If I have some blunders on defense, I want to make sure I keep my mind at peace when I'm hitting."

Alvarez made a pair of sprawling stops of hard line drives. He caught up with a bouncer down the line. He made bullet throws to first baseman Derrek Lee for three bang-bang outs.

"Top-shelf plays," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He played both sides well tonight, and it's got to feel good. He's in the best shape he's been in, in a long time. He's moving around well laterally. And the bat ... there's a little momentum there."

Alvarez went into the game batting .189, but lately he was showing subtle signs — patient approaches, flashes of power — that he was turning it around.

"He's been taking the pitches that he was swinging at (and missing) before," Hurdle said.

In one stretch during the series last weekend against the Dodgers, Alvarez walked in five out of six plate appearances. Over two weeks, he raised his on-base percentage 10 points.

During batting practice on Monday at Chase Field, Alvarez whacked two balls high off the video scoreboard in center field. In his second at-bat that night, he drove center fielder Chris Young to the wall for a deep fly out.

"The last couple days, I've felt really good," Alvarez said. "It just so happened today that I ran into a ball and hit a home run."

In the second inning, Alvarez homered off right-hander Daniel Hudson (16-11). The ball landed several rows deep in the right field seats and put the Pirates up, 2-0.

It was Alvarez's fourth homer, his first since July 30.

The Diamondbacks showed Alvarez a measure of respect in the fifth, giving him an intentional walk with two outs and runners on second and third.

It was Alvarez's first intentional walk in 242 plate appearances this season, and only the second of his career.

It's not all sunshine and bon bons for Alvarez, though. He also struck out twice with a runner on base, raising his whiff total to 76. He's fanned in 35 percent of his at-bats. In the eighth, Alvarez threw wildly after fielding a bunt single by Willie Bloomquist.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on back-to-back doubles by Alex Presley and Neil Walker. In the fifth, Ryan Doumit's RBI double made it 3-0. Derrek Lee clubbed a two-run homer in the eighth.

Charlie Morton (10-10) tossed six shutout innings to pick up his first victory since Aug. 8. Morton gave up three hits, walked three and struck out five. The righty also hit a batter for the sixth time in his past seven starts.

"I've been stuck at nine (wins) for a little while," Morton said. "I've never (won) 10 before, so that was big."

Morton threw 106 pitches, making him the first Pirates pitcher to toss 100-plus in a game since Jeff Karstens threw 103 on Aug. 22.

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