PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent the better part of a decade being relegated to the role of spoiler when September rolls around.
This time, they believe things may be different. A young core that seems to be growing up in real time has given the Pirates a sense the last month of the regular season could provide something far more valuable than putting a dent in an opponent’s postseason plans: real, honest momentum.
Ke’Bryan Hayes homered and tripled, Jack Suwinski drilled his 23rd home run and the Pirates rallied past the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 on Monday night. Pittsburgh has won six of seven and is a respectable 19-16 since July 29 as several of the pieces the club views as potential long-term clubhouse fixtures have settled in.
“I think just collectively, it’s been a lot of teamwork, as you would say,” Hayes said. “So, I think (it’s just been) getting familiar with everyone.”
Luis Ortiz, just 24, overcame a bout of wildness in the second inning to improve to 4-4 thanks in large part to the work of Endy Rodriguez. The 23-year-old catcher beat a steady path out to the mound to keep Ortiz focused whenever he noticed his mechanics threatening to break down.
Ortiz gave up two runs in the second when he loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and a hit batter. The Brewers scratched across a pair of runs on sacrifice flies, but Ortiz settled down from there to win his second consecutive start. David Bednar worked the ninth for his 32nd save.
“Endy knows me well and he knows which button to push when it needs to be pushed,” Ortiz said. “He knows the type of pitcher that I am and that plays an important part of pushing me to do better.”
Suwinski’s two-run homer in the fourth off Corbin Burnes (9-8) tied the game. Hayes put the Pirates in front with a shot to left-center that just cleared the wall next to the 410-foot sign with two outs in the fifth. Bryan Reynolds followed with a double and scored when Andrew McCutchen doubled down the left-field line.
McCutchen doubled twice for Pittsburgh but remained stuck on 299 career home runs. The five-time All-Star exited in the bottom of the fifth with left Achilles tightness. The 36-year-old winced as he reached second base on his second double and hobbled between second and third when Connor Joe flied out to end the inning.
“I just wanted to be safe and not make anything any worse,” McCutchen said. “As a precaution, they wanted to take me out. I was fine. I could’ve stayed in the game.”
Burnes gave up four runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts in six innings. He is winless since July 20, a span of eight starts in which his ERA has been a solid if not spectacular 3.98.
“Early on, we put guys away quick and got some weak contact, got a lot of ground balls,” Burnes said. “That second time through (the lineup) we just weren’t able to put hitters away. We just made bad pitches with two strikes.”
The inability to take advantage when Burnes is on the hill has been one of the few missteps by the Brewers of late. Milwaukee used an eight-game winning streak in late August to take control of the division.
The Brewers took two of three from Philadelphia over the weekend but began a six-game road trip through Pittsburgh and New York with a whimper.
William Contreras went 1 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, but Milwaukee left six runners on base and was 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The sacrifice flies by Victor Caratini and Brice Turang in the second marked all the offense the Brewers could muster against Ortiz and four relievers.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. ”I mean, it’s as simple as that.”