Collier: Going to great lengths to win

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Now it's at the point where home runs are falling out of the Pirates' pockets.

Now they're finding them in the couch cushions.

Now these guys are pulling them slyly from behind their Buccan-ears.

What's that? Tied score, bottom of the ninth, hanging curveball to Drew Sutton -- Drew Sutton, who hasn't homered in nearly two years?

No problem -- 407 feet to dead center.

Good night and drive safely.

This team is 15-3 when it homers at home, and there is no apparent shortage.

The Pirates had done conspicuously little Tuesday night to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Bobby Bonilla homering from both sides of the plate in the same game, never mind that Bobby Bo on July 3, 1987 became the first Pirate to do such a thing. For the trivia mad, the victims were Fernando Valenzuela and Ken Howell as the Pirates smoked the Dodgers at Three Rivers Stadium.

The contemporary Houston Astros, oblivious to this and, again this baseball season, to many other things, did offer for the occasion an appearance by Fernando Rodriguez, but he seemed to lack the paunch, the scroogie and the joyous Cinco de Mayo panache of the original.

One can excuse the general oversight however, as the current Pirates crew is awash in a serious home run accounting of its own, so when the sizzling Andrew McCutchen swatted a two-run homer over the Clemente Wall in the fourth inning, we were compelled to note that Clint Hurdle's team had homered in 11 consecutive games, the single most sustained barrage of fireworks around here since 1994.

Oh you remember -- Midre Cummings and Carlos Garcia; they could hurt you.

Initially though, this was a game in which the Pirates were compelled to contemplate briefly the capricious nature of offense itself, and seemed to be doing exactly that the first time through the batting order against Houston's Lucas Harrell, who was coming off a complete-game shutout of San Diego and had eaten more innings than any rookie in the National League.

Harrell turned the Pirates into a stunningly realistic version of their April selves, striking out seven of the first 10 hitters to face him and nine altogether. That was surely April in Pittsburgh -- way more strikeouts than hits, runaway anemia -- and it seems so long ago even though it was essentially replayed in May.

In those two months combined, the Pirates scored a baseball basement 147 runs. In June, they scored a baseball best 146. It's far better to be contemplative of this than the reverse, for which you can ask your Los Angeles Dodgers, who maybe you noticed scored two runs last week -- all week -- after spending most of the first half of the season as the best team in the league. Before they put eight runs up against the Mets Sunday night, they had been shut out five times in six games.

You can be sure most if not all of the 21,516 assembled on the North Shore Tuesday night were thinking nothing about that when McCutchen launched his 16th homer, his fourth in 11 days. The collective thought process right there was that the Pirates center fielder is unequivocally among the very best players in the game right now.

They weren't chanting M-V-P because Evgeni Malkin had just wandered in. He hadn't, just to be clear.

The other, almost palpable element of the McCutchen homer, was the more important. It triggered another offensive onslaught rather than stand out as a curiosity. It cleaved Houston's lead to 4-2, and even though the Astros wound up tacking six runs to A.J. Burnett's ERA, the Pirates' momentum had been established.

This is an offense, after all, that's scored seven runs or more in five of the past seven games. Once, it scored seven twice in the same game, beating St. Louis 14-5.

That's where it's living right now.

Casey McGehee drove in Garrett Jones to pull the Pirates to within 6-3, and when Hurdle sent up the slightly gimpy Pedro Alvarez to pinch-hit with two runners on just one out later, everyone in the building including Pedro was thinking a three-run tying bomb might arrive on schedule.

Instead Alvarez did the next best thing against Rodriguez, lining a 2-2 pitch to center to pull the Pirates to within 6-5.

After McCutchen chopped his third hit off the game on the infield with one out in the seventh, Jones rode Brandon Lyon's 1-0 pitch out of the ballpark in right for his 12th homer, his fourth in nine days.

At that moment, seven of the past eight Pirate homers had come with runners on base.

At this moment, the Pirates seem to be looking at a long, loud, urgent summer that might ultimately include two players with 30 homers (McCutchen and Alvarez) and another with 20 (Jones).

And sometimes, when that kind of thing happens, a whole lot more comes with it.



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