McCutchen, Mercer lead Pirates to 5-4 win over Rangers


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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pirates have relied most of this season on a shutdown bullpen to make up for a lackluster offense. Those roles were reversed Tuesday night.

The offense built a big enough lead to protect against a shaky bullpen as the Pirates held on to beat Texas, 5-4, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Pirates led by as many as four runs in the game, but needed reliever Mark Melancon to strike out American League MVP candidate Adrian Beltre with the potential go-ahead run on base to preserve the win.

All-Star relievers Jason Grilli and Melancon allowed earned runs in the eighth and ninth innings after guarding narrow leads most of the season.

"Nobody's more aware of it than the guys on the offensive side of the ball," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've seen so many times where the bullpen has locked things down. And they've seen games extended where we had to pitch innings where we normally wouldn't have to pitch. But we're all in it together. The offense showed up at a very critical time."

The Pirates led by three runs entering the ninth, and Melancon recorded two quick strikeouts before allowing four consecutive singles as the Rangers pulled to within one run. With the potential tying run at third and the go-ahead run on first, Melancon stared down Beltre.

"Things like that can happen quick, and tonight it did," Melancon said. "I never really lost composure or thought any negative thoughts out there."

Melancon needed three pitches to strike out Beltre to end the game.

"I threw three heaters," he said. "I think he was taking first pitch. Second pitch, he fouled back. Third pitch, I don't know if he was sitting breaking ball or not, but I came back with another one."

It was the 13th save this season for Melancon, though likely the most eventful.

"At the end of the day, he struck out the side," Hurdle said. "Just a little bit of action in between."

The Rangers scored one run off Grilli in the eighth, the second consecutive outing he has allowed an earned run. It was just his third appearance since returning from the disabled list after rehabilitating a right flexor strain.

That run helped the Rangers (81-63) pull within two. Hurdle turned to Tony Watson to face lefthand-hitting A.J. Pierzynski, who doubled to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Watson stayed in the game to face Jeff Baker -- a .333 hitter against left-handers -- and struck him out with an 0-2 fastball to end the inning.

"I wish I would have gotten Pierzynski because then I wouldn't have even had to worry about it," Watson said. "I was pounding [Baker] in, and then I tried to get him to chase up. It worked out."

While the bullpen eventually closed the game, the Pirates' offense built a big cushion.

"If we didn't have the cushion, we'd probably be in a different scenario right now," Melancon said.

The Pirates (83-61) pounded Rangers starter Martin Perez for four runs and nine hits in five-plus innings to claim their second consecutive victory.

It was the 27th time this season the Pirates faced a left-handed starter, but the Pirates' .266 batting average against left-handed pitching is tied for the second-best mark in the National League. Against right-handers, the Pirates are 12th in the NL, hitting .242.

Andrew McCutchen led the way for the offense, going 3 for 5 with three RBI singles. Jordy Mercer had a career high four hits in the game.

"It was good to get the lead and to tack on a few there at the end," Mercer said. "You never know what's going to happen. Melancon's been unbelievable all year, so you don't know when he's going to stumble a bit. But he hung in there."

Meanwhile, the Pirates got a boost from their own lefthander as Francisco Liriano struck out five and allowed one earned run in six innings. He walked two and surrendered six hits to improve to 16-7 this season, earning a decision in all 23 starts.

Liriano continued to show his ability to bounce back from ugly outings. He allowed seven earned runs last week against the Milwaukee Brewers, his sixth outing this season in which he has allowed at least four earned runs. In the six starts that followed such outings, Liriano is 5-1 with a 1.05 ERA.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.


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