PITTSBURGH (AP) – Mired in a funk a quarter of the way into a season with high expectations, Clint Hurdle challenged his team to get its act together.
A week later, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates were listening.
Jung Ho Kang capped a late rally with a two-run single and the Pirates ran their winning streak to six games with a 5-2 victory over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday.
“For way too long we were a good team playing mediocre baseball, so you’re not a good team really,” Hurdle said. “You’ve got to connect the dots. You’ve got to put parts of the game in play.”
At the moment, they’re all firing for the Pirates, who won for the first time this season when trailing after six innings. Pittsburgh scored five times with two outs in the seventh off the Miami bullpen to extend its longest surge since it won nine straight in June, 2013.
“We’ve got our swag back out there,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “You can’t foresee it, but we’re as good as any team in baseball, especially the way we’re playing right now. We feel like we can keep it going.”
Josh Harrison and Pedro Alvarez added RBI singles while Starling Marte worked a rare bases-loaded walk. Gerrit Cole (7-2) struck out seven in seven efficient innings. Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 12th save as Pittsburgh completed an eight-game homestand with a flourish.
“We start chipping away and put the pressure on them and that’s what it’s all about,” Stewart said, “putting the pressure on them, forcing them to make good pitches out there.”
The Pirates spent five innings getting handcuffed by Miami starter Brad Hand but jumped on relievers Mike Dunn and Sam Dyson (2-2).
Dunn retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh before Stewart singled. Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata then smacked a grounder to second base that deflected off Dee Gordon’s glove and into shallow center field.
Dyson took over for Dunn and promptly gave up a single to Harrison that brought Pittsburgh to 2-1. Pinch-hitter Alvarez beat the shift by slashing a single through the left side of the infield to tie the game. Andrew McCutchen walked to load the bases to set up Marte.
Usually free-swinging Starling Marte – who leads the Pirates in strikeouts – then worked the count full against Dyson and held off on a breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone to force home Harrison and give the Pirates the lead. Kang lined a single over Gordon’s glove to push Pittsburgh’s advantage to 5-2.
“It was hard to take,” Marte said with a laugh. “I’ve been swinging at that pitch pretty much (all year).”
Not this time. When Kang followed with a liner over Gordon’s head the Pirates were two games over .500 and suddenly looking like the team that still expects to challenge St. Louis and improving Chicago in the NL Central.
“We’re making it tough for the other team to get us out,” McCutchen said. “We scratch and claw and that’s what makes us a good team.”
Justin Bour and Christian Yelich hit solo homers for the Marlins, who fell to 2-8 under manager Dan Jennings. Miami had been 12-0 when leading after six innings but were swept for the sixth time this season when Pittsburgh got going.
Hand, pressed into his first start of the season when injuries forced Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos to the disabled list, kept the Pirates off balance. Pittsburgh managed just four hits with Hand on the mound and Miami appeared to be in decent shape when Bour and Yelich both sent Cole offerings into the seats in right field to stake the Marlins to a 2-0 lead. Dee Gordon added two hits to push his major league-leading average to .376 but Miami dropped to 1-11 in its last 12 games at PNC Park.
“I still believe in these guys,” Jennings said. “There’s a heck of a lot of talent out there that’s showing positive things. But you have to execute pitches in situations to get the outs and shut down innings like that when they’re getting away from you. ”
Marlins: RHP Jose Fernandez was scheduled to throw a simulated game on Wednesday as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery in 2014. … RHP Jarred Cosart was scheduled to throw off the mound on Wednesday as he begins to come back from a bout with vertigo.
Marlins: Miami is off Thursday and will spend the weekend in New York to face the Mets. New York swept a four-game series from the Marlins at Citi Field in April. Dan Haren (4-2, 3.09) starts for Miami.
Pirates: Pittsburgh begins a 10-game road trip on Thursday night when it begins a four-game set in San Diego. A.J. Burnett (4-1, 1.37) will look for his fifth straight win.
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