PITTSBURGH -- After spending most of the week with the Houston Astros, who kept scoring first then had no retort, the Pirates on Friday night ran into someone who punched back.
The Bucs, the shocking leaders of the National League Central, and the NL West-contending Giants, shocked by three straight losses in Washington, D.C., exchanged volleys to the entertainment and ultimate disappointment of many in a sold-out PNC Park who watched San Francisco hold on for a 6-5 victory.
"To jump out early, have them jump back, and for us to continue to chip away ... that's the way we're playing now," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, disappointed by the result but certainly not by the effort as his crew suffered only its second loss in 10 games.The Pirates' last salvo went a long way: Pedro Alvarez led off the eighth with a 457-foot homer off lefty reliever Javier Lopez, but all that did -- besides awe witnesses -- was cut into the final margin.
The loss ended the season's fourth four-game winning streak by a team that has yet to make it to five. That might reflect the unavoidable fact of always having a weak link in the five-man starting rotation, which at the moment is Erik Bedard.
"We'll look at some tape, try to help him figure out some things over the [All-Star] break," Hurdle said of the veteran lefty, who for the fourth time in seven starts could not make it through five innings. Asked whether he might already have some idea of what those things are, the manager admitted, "I do have some thoughts, which we'll share with him first."Bedard on Friday was quite charitable with the 3-0 lead the Pirates had presented him.
The Giants thus attempted to tighten up two races, the one they trailed by a game and a half and the one the Pirates led by two games.
The small picture was as compelling. After shadowing each other atop the NL batting charts for weeks, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen and Giants left fielder Melky Cabrera got some face time.
Although the averages of both officially rounded off to .356, the two began the night a ridiculous .00011 apart, with McCutchen leading at .35593 and Cabrera at .35582.
The Bucs won that battle, if not the war.
After a 3-for-5 night that included two RBIs, McCutchen was at .360.
Cabrera also drove in two, but had "only" two hits in four at-bats to finish at .358.
McCutchen's teammates appear as stunned and impressed by his performance as are outside observers. Pick a context -- batting .550 in July after earning June Player of the Month honors, 17 hits in his last seven games, 27 hits in his last 52 at-bats against left-handers, a dozen games with three-plus hits -- and McCutchen is in his own orbit."Me and McCutchen are from the same class [of 2005] out of high school, and to see where he's at is pretty outstanding," said Alvarez, who tied McCutchen for the team lead with his 16th homer. "I just hope that he can keep going, because we're feeding off his energy. It's been a lot of fun to play alongside him." Before pulling their first-inning punches, the Bucs pushed across a quick run for a 1-0 lead. They began the game with three consecutive singles, by Josh Harrison, Drew Sutton and McCutchen -- the last good for his 55th RBI.
Harrison, getting a start at short and atop the lineup, lit the fuse again in the third. He led off with a walk and, one out later, scored when McCutchen's drive found the 410-foot nook in left-center for a triple. Neil Walker's double delivered McCutchen for a 3-0 lead.
Bedard entered the fourth with a no-hitter -- having retired nine straight after a game-opening walk of Justin Christian -- but never got out of it."We saw him really improve after the leadoff walk," Hurdle said. "The second and third were very crisp. The fourth was bad all around." Precisely what the Giants did -- bat around. Ryan Theriot sent an RBI double to right-center and scored on Cabrera's game-tying homer, which cleared the bases but not Bedard's plate.
"Rod [catcher Barajas] was going down to block it; it was going to go in the dirt," Bedard said of the 1-and-0 curve to Cabrera. "But he hit a home run on it."
Bedard had a slightly different evaluation of that pitch than did his manager, who had said that breaking pitch was something the pitcher "probably wanted lower."
"They're not just cashing it in and sitting back, waiting for something to happen," said the beneficiary of the rally, southpaw Barry Zito. "They're making it happen. That home run Melky hit was a huge lift for the team, and everyone else added in their spots."
A run-scoring single by Hector Sanchez gave the Giants their first lead at 4-3, and they added to it when Harrison let Joaquin Arias' grounder carom off his glove and into left for an error.
"The guys bounced back good," said Giants manger Bruce Bochy. "They got an early lead, but the club did a great job of putting together a big inning."
Bedard retired Zito on a sacrifice bunt, then his 3 2/3-inning start was over. He needed 37 pitches just to get through two-thirds of that fourth inning.
Casey McGehee's sixth homer in the fifth reduced Zito's lead to 5-4 but, after 2 1/3 hitless innings by Chris Resop, Juan Cruz surrendered Theriot's sacrifice fly in the seventh to reset the San Francisco lead at 6-4.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.