Pirates' streak at five, with 'everything clicking'
The Pirates' Garrett Jones returns to the dugout after he scored in the third inning Wednesday at PNC Park.
Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton throws in the first inning.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez watches his two-run double in the third inning of Wednesday's game against the Cardinals at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Garrett Jones hits a double to drive in a run in the third inning.
The ball gets away from Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones as the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker dives back to first on a pickoff attempt by pitcher Charlie Morton in the second inning.
The Pirates' John Bowker, left, is greeted by third base coach Tony Beasley after hitting a solo home run in the second inning.
Pirates center fielder Alexander Presley slides on the warning track as he chases a fly ball that went for a double by Cardinals pinch-hitter Nick Stavinoha in the ninth inning. Left fielder Brandon Moss give chase.
The Pirates' Garrett Jones, top, and Pedro Alvarez celebrate with teammates.
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In the alternate-reality Bizarro world of the 2010 Pirates, life probably looks a lot like their 11-6 body slam of the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night before 11,785 at PNC Park.
Try to picture it ...
Charlie Morton pitched a strikingly confident six innings, "absolutely his best" per manager John Russell, including a knee-buckling curve that corkscrewed Albert Pujols.
A relentless offense featured Pedro Alvarez producing a two-run home run and two-run double, John Bowker a home run and RBI double among three hits, Garrett Jones an RBI double among three hits, and Andrew McCutchen a double, single and sacrifice fly.
And the team as a whole won its fifth in a row -- that's won -- for the first time since Aug. 17-22, 2009, with a chance this afternoon to sweep the Cardinals and extend a winning streak to six. That would be, remarkably, just the second six-game streak in the past six years, the other coming May 6-12, 2008, early in Russell's tenure.
Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Brian Burres (3-3, 4.93) vs. RHP Jeff Suppan (1-7, 5.61).
Key matchup: Take a wild guess which team Suppan beat for that lone victory. Yes, he held the Pirates scoreless for 5 1/3 innings July 31 in St. Louis, an 11-1 rout for the Cardinals.
Of note: The Pirates will share the North Shore with a football team for the 18th time since PNC Park and Heinz Field opened, with Pitt playing in the latter. But it will be the first such occasion on a Thursday.
Few things are less relevant in baseball than non-contending games in September, but still ...
"It's better than losing," McCutchen said with a laugh. "It feels good to show up to the field thinking you're going to win instead of just hoping you're going to win."
The Pirates are there?
"I know I have that feeling. Especially playing a team like the Cardinals. Our pitching's doing a good job, our offense, it's all-around. Everything's clicking for us. It's good to have that feeling. Sky's the limit from here."
"It's good to see the energy, the life our players have," Russell said, continuing a month-long theme, even during the 1-6 road trip that preceded these five victories at home. "We want to finish this strong."
Russell was asked if he sees winning as contagious.
"I think the attitude is. They're starting to get a very good attitude, and it's carrying over. Again, it was a tough road trip, but the guys played hard and knew they were close. They're starting to put it together on this homestand."
This one started, as has the entire streak, with the starter.
Morton was charged with two runs and four hits, though one run was the result of a bad break in left by Jose Tabata. He struck out five, walked one and, numbers aside, demonstrated a poise not seen all summer.
"Charlie had command, aggressiveness ... it really clicked for him tonight," Russell said. "He's been working toward this, and this is something he can really build off. He's certainly capable of this."
Morton routinely hit 95-96 mph on the radar gun, about 2-3 mph faster than much of the season, but the star was a superb curve that had so much life it actually cost Morton his lone run: One dived under catcher Chris Snyder's glove for a run-scoring wild pitch in the second.
The biggest impact of the curves, no doubt, came in the next inning with a runner in scoring position for Pujols, an at-bat that alternated from 94-mph fastball to 79-mph curve, then was repeated until the fourth and final pitch brought a rare ugly swing from the game's premier hitter.
Was it Morton's best curve?
"He missed it, so I guess, yeah," he replied. "I just wanted to bury it."
Morton improved to 2-11, but his ERA began the month at 10.03 and has been 3.86 in four September starts.
"For me, right now, it's about not dwelling on the negative. I'm focusing on the positives. And that's what I'm taking to the mound. When you're not going well, or you're not feeling good, the hitter sees that."
The Pirates made quick work of Morton's counterpart, Kyle Lohse, chasing him with six runs through three innings: Tabata's RBI triple brought the opening run in the first, and a groundout brought him home. Bowker impressively sent a tight, letters-high fastball into the center-field seats to lead off the second, his second home run with the Pirates. And back-to-back doubles to deep center by Jones and Alvarez made it 6-1 in the third, Alvarez's pushing across two.
Those two combined again in the fifth off P.J. Walters, Jones leading off with a single, and Alvarez leveling his 12th home run -- just his second in the past 40 games -- beyond center.
Aside from Morton, Alvarez's 2 for 4 with four RBIs might have been most uplifting for the Pirates.
"He's that kind of player: He can do damage quickly," Russell said. "He's had his struggles, but he's grown a lot."
Alvarez, typically, focused on the team.
"It feels very good just to be winning," he said. "We want to carry that over."
The Pirates are 53-98, that loss total frozen since returning from New York, and Russell's goal of a winning home record remains intact: They are 38-39 and must win three of the final four games at PNC Park.
First Published September 23, 2010 12:00 am