Pedro Alvarez smacked a mammoth home run in the third inning of the game Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, going opposite field to clear the notch in left-center.
Three innings later, he outdid himself. And every other Pirate who has played at PNC Park.
Alvarez crushed a 469-foot home run in the sixth, clearing the seats in center and bouncing to the Riverwalk on the shores of the Allegheny River, the longest home run by a Pirate in the history of the 11-year-old ballpark.
"The ball looked like it was going to hit the bridge," manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's four hundred and I don't know how many -- that's a whole bunch of feet."
It was that kind of night for the Pirates, who found a way to shake off their recent offensive woes to wallop the Cardinals, 9-0.
They brushed off their recent pitching struggles, too.
James McDonald pitched a gem, allowing two hits in seven shutout innings to pick up his 12th victory. He struck out six and showed the type of command that propelled him to a strong first half but had evaded him since.
"James needs to continue to seek, I think, greatness and accept nothing less," Hurdle said. "That's going to take the focus that you saw out there. It's not going to be like that every night, but he has a switch somewhere."
McDonald has had a few strong outings in the second half but had been unable to carry momentum from one start to the next.
"I'd say 80 percent of it is mental," McDonald said.
With the victory, the Pirates (69-60) trail the Cardinals (71-58) by two games in the race for the second and final National League wild-card playoff spot. And the win came thanks to two players -- Alvarez and McDonald -- who could be the difference between a run to the playoffs and a limp to the season finale.
The two-home run game was the fifth of Alvarez's career -- and third this season.
He overtook Andrew McCutchen for the team lead in home runs (25). It earned Alvarez a curtain call in the sixth, and he flashed the Zoltan sign to the 17,492 fans.
"He was able to show you why we feel the way we feel about him, as far as having a man in the lineup with that kind of raw power," Hurdle said.
The 469-foot home run was the fourth longest in PNC Park history, but some thought his earlier homer was more impressive.
"Probably the most impressive thing was that ball that he hit to left-center," said catcher Michael McKenry, who was standing on deck for all of Alvarez's at-bats.
"The pitch was inside. He actually inside-outed it that far."
Alvarez finished 4 for 5 with the two homers, a double, four RBIs and three runs while continuing to torment the Cardinals this season. He is hitting .389 against St. Louis with six home runs and 20 RBIs. He even received a rousing ovation from the crowd after he struck out in the eighth.
"I said, 'Look, all you've to do to is you hit two homers, you get four homers and they'll clap for you when you strike out around here,' " Hurdle said.
The Pirates collected 14 hits in the game
They roughed up St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook for seven earned runs and 11 hits in five innings. Westbrook struggled with his sinker, which he often left elevated over the plate.
Josh Harrison energized the dugout and crowd when he plowed into Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina in the second while trying to score. Harrison said he saw Molina block the plate, and he started a slide before he barreled into Molina. The catcher held onto the ball, but left the game with upper back, left shoulder and neck strains.
The Cardinals took umbrage to the move, and Westbrook retaliated by plunking Harrison in his lower leg with an 89 mph pitch in the fifth.
"If they feel that I did that intentionally, I was trying to run him over, but not put him out," Harrison said.
"I didn't have a reaction to it. That's one of their guys they feel they've got to protect."
That drew a warning to both teams from home plate umpire Adrian Johnson, despite protests from Hurdle and a shouting match between Rod Barajas and some players in the Cardinals dugout.
"It's not about trying to hurt the catcher or knock the catcher out. It's about playing the game hard," said Barajas, a catcher.
"If that base is taken away from you, you've got to figure out a way to try to get to it."
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 29, 2012 4:00 AM