A strong argument could be made that the two most pleasant surprises for the Pirates this season have been Josh Harrison and Edinson Volquez.
Harrison began the season as a bench player who was expected to be not much more than an ultra-utility guy. Volquez was signed in the offseason off the scrap heap after several underwhelming seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Los Angles Dodgers.
All Harrison has done is become one of the Pirates best and most important players, and Volquez has become their most consistent pitcher.
Friday night, their value was on full display. Volquez had a no-hitter through six innings and pitched 72/3, and Harrison had three hits and four spectacular fielding plays to lead the Pirates to a 2-1 win against Cincinnati before a sellout crowd of 37,209 at PNC Park.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said both performances were a continuation of the incredible story both have written for themselves this season.
"This is another chapter [for Harrison]," Hurdle said. "You can watch a lot of Major League Baseball games and you would be hard pressed to find a better all-around game than Josh had tonight on both sides of the ball. He was fantastic on defense, and every time he came to the plate, he put the barrel on the ball.
"He had a deep flyout for an out, a single, a double and a triple, and defensively he saved a couple of runs. He was fantastic. I'm proud of him."
Harrison, who was 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored, said: "I'm very humbled by those words from [Hurdle]. I am just out there trying to help any way possible and I got presented with a lot of opportunities tonight. Sometimes, that is how baseball is."
Hurdle said Volquez didn't have his best stuff but pitched well and made key pitches when he needed to, making him nearly as much fun to watch as Harrison.
"He is unbelievable," Hurdle said of Harrison, adding that the idea of Harrison being the National League's MVP is nothing to scoff at.
"He can do everything. For me, he is the MVP right now," Volquez said of Harrison. "He is the MVP of the league; the way he is playing right now is something unbelievable. He can do everything"
It was the third win in a row for the Pirates (70-64), and it broke a two-game winning streak for the fourth-place Reds (65-70), who were hoping to close the gap with the Pirates and get back into the wild-card race this weekend.
Volquez struck out six and walked three but his record remained at 11-7 with a no-decision performance in which he was dominant. Reds starter Mike Leake was nearly as good for the seven innings he lasted.
Leake held the Pirates scoreless through seven while allowing six hits. He struck out one and walked none and never was in real danger. He, too, got a no-decision and his record remained 10-11.
"I like [when the other pitcher is pitching well], I like the competition," Volquez said. "And [Leake] is a great pitcher, too, and we were talking about it before the game. I said, 'pitch your game, I'll pitch my game, and let's see what happens.' "
The Reds finally scored a run in the eighth when speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton singled, stole second and scored on Devin Mesoraco's single off reliever Tony Watson.
The damage could have been worse, but Brandon Phillips, who was hit by Volquez's 114th and final pitch before Watson relieved him, was thrown out at the plate by Harrison, who made a heads-up play to pick up a mishandled throw and fire it to catcher Russell Martin to get Phillips.
That was one of four huge plays by Harrison. He also made diving stops in the fourth and seventh to rob the Reds of hits and made a clean catch of a liner by Phillips in the sixth that also saved a run.
The Pirates rallied immediately against Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton when pinch-hitter Andrew Lambo, recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis earlier Friday, hit a one-out single in the eighth, then scored the tying run on Harrison's triple off the right-field wall.
Harrison scored the winning run on a single by Jose Tabata.
"Yeah, you do [think he is going to make something happen when the Pirates need it most every night]; he has kind of given everybody that belief," Hurdle said.
"That he is usually going to be in the middle of something big for us when it does happen. He has been from the time he was plugged in the lineup."
The Pirates needed Lambo because they were short-handed with injuries to Pedro Alvarez (sprained foot) and Travis Snider (hamstring discomfort). Lambo's defense is a work in progress, but he can hit.
Lambo, who was hitting .328 (78 for 238) with 19 doubles, 2 triples, 11 home runs and 42 RBIs in 61 games with Indianapolis, was supposed to be in the mix as the starting first baseman to start the season but a poor spring took him out of the competition.
"That's exactly why we brought Lambo up [as insurance off the bench while Snider and Alvarez heal]," Hurdle said.
Broxton (4-2) took the loss for the Reds, while Watson (10-1) got the win despite giving up the hit that gave Cincinnati its brief lead.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise