CINCINNATI -- After the Cincinnati Reds capitalized on an untimely -- and ugly -- error to win the first game of a pivotal series last week, the Pirates rode a solid defensive effort to capture the first game of an even more important series Friday.
The Pirates played errorless baseball at Great American Ball Park in their 4-1 victory, and a handful plays in particular stood out to keep a potent Reds lineup in check.
Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Justin Morneau helped A.J. Burnett turn hits into outs as the right-hander allowed one earned run on five hits in eight innings.
"I had guys everywhere tonight," Burnett said. "Great plays in the outfield and in the infield. It was fun to be out there, watching those guys moving."
Marte robbed Joey Votto of a potential extra-base hit in the third inning with a spectacular catch.
Votto laced a liner toward the left-center gap that appeared destined to drop and roll to the wall. And if any Pirates outfielder had a shot to chase it down, it appeared to be center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
But it was Marte who tracked down the ball, catching it at his feet while falling to the grass.
"That's a fantastic play," manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's a highlight-reel play. You're going to see it tonight. You're going to see it tomorrow. You're going to see it a number of different times."
It was a critical inning for the Pirates and Burnett, whose struggles this season have often resulted from his inability to shut down opposing offenses when given a lead. Marte's catch helped Burnett go 1-2-3 after the Pirates scored two runs in the top half of the inning.
"Before the game, I challenged them to hustle like broke men, like men that had no money," Hurdle said. "Whether he understood me or not, he sure looked like it."
Alvarez showed his defensive range on a pair of ground ball outs early in the game that helped keep the Reds offense at bay. It has been Alvarez's greatest improvement as a third baseman this season, and Hurdle said few, if any, work harder than Alvarez at improving defensively.
"I just try to be ready," Alvarez said. "I try to be ready every pitch. Obviously, I still have a lot of room for improvement. The plan is to continue to grow and keep going at it."
With two outs and runners on first and second in the second inning, Reds pitcher Homer Bailey hit a slow-rolling grounder toward third base. Alvarez charged the ball, fielded it at his feet and threw out Bailey at first to end the inning with the game scoreless.
Two innings later, Alvarez and Morneau teamed up to limit Cincinnati's offense again.
Brandon Phillips led off the fourth inning with a sharp ground ball between Alvarez and Clint Barmes on the left side of the infield. Alvarez fielded the ball but needed to spin to maintain his balance. He quickly fired to first to try beat the speedy Phillips to the bag.
But the throw was well to Morneau's left, pulling the big first baseman off the bag. He tried to swipe Phillips with a tag, but Phillips sidestepped the glove -- and missed the base. Morneau dived back toward Phillips and tagged him before he could get back to the bag.
Alvarez helped end the game with a big defensive play, too. After Votto reached first with a single to lead off the ninth inning, Alvarez started a double play that helped closer Jason Grilli finish off the game.
"The conviction he has, he wants to be a very good defensive third baseman," Hurdle said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @msanserino. First Published September 28, 2013 4:15 AM