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Pirates ride key pinch hits and shutdown bullpen in 9-6 comeback over Brewers

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Clutch pinch hits by John Jaso and Gregory Polanco and strong relief pitching by Jeff Locke, Juan Nicasio, and Neftali Feliz keyed a third straight win for the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-6 over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates will go for a series sweep tomorrow.

Pirates starter Jameson Taillon had his first poor outing of the season, giving up five runs on seven hits in his three innings of work. Four of those five runs scored on a three-run homer in the first and a solo homer in the third by a Brewer who has now earned status as a Taillon nemesis, Hernan Perez: in addition to hitting another home run against Taillon earlier this season, Perez is also the batter who previously lined a ball off Taillon's head. Perez's batting average against Taillon is now .714 (five for seven). The solo homer in the third gave the Brewers a 5-1 lead that might have been worse had Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, and Eric Fryer not retired Orlando Arcia at home trying to score on Martin Maldonado's two-out double to end the inning.

But the Pirates, who had scored a run in the first on a double by Marte off Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson that drove home Josh Harrison, were able to take advantage of Nelson's sudden loss of command in the fourth, retake the lead, and send Nelson to the showers. With one out, Adam Frazier singled up the middle, Jordy Mercer walked, and Eric Fryer fouled off multiple two-strike pitches to earn another walk, loading the bases. Clint Hurdle sent John Jaso up to pinch hit for Taillon, and Jaso singled on a 2-1 pitch, scoring Frazier with the Pirates' second run. Harrison, entering the next at bat 1-12 with the bases loaded this season, this time dumped a single in front of Ryan Braun in left field, scoring Mercer and Fryer, with Frazier going to third and Harrison to second on an errant throw home. With the infield back, Josh Bell's roller to second base scored Jaso with the tying run, and Andrew McCutchen's infield single up the middle scored Harrison and gave the Pirates a 6-5 lead, chasing Nelson in favor of reliever Tyler Cravy.

The first of three Pirates relievers, Jeff Locke, began an evening of otherwise flawless Pirate relief pitching in comedic fashion when the first pitch he threw, to Cravy, soared into the seats for a game-tying homer. But Locke retired the next six batters he faced in the fourth and fifth and, when the Pirates scored three in the top of the sixth, earned the win as the pitcher of record.

Blaine Boyer replaced Cravy in the sixth and gave up a leadoff single to Sean Rodriguez on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. A one-out opposite-field double by Bell put runners on second and third with McCutchen on deck and Locke, who had entered the game in the fourth spot in the lineup after a double switch, due up after McCutchen. With Gregory Polanco on the bench after going hitless in the first two games of this series, Brewers manager Craig Counsell decided to intentionally walk McCutchen and load the bases. Hurdle, of course, sent Polanco up to bat, and Polanco's double to right center cleared the bases and gave the Pirates a 9-6 lead.

Juan Nicasio held that lead with three brilliant innings of relief in the sixth, seventh, and eighth, giving up only one hit and striking out five. With Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero unavailable tonight, Neftali Feliz made the ninth more interesting than necessary by walking Scooter Gennett with a runner on first and Ryan Braun, as the tying run, on deck. But he retired Braun on a great barehanded play by Mercer that was challenged at first and upheld, allowing the Pirates to walk off the field with a third straight win.

The Pirates' relief pitching, the principal topic of early-season hand wringing this year, has become one of this team's most valuable assets in the race for the second wild card. That race got a little tighter tonight with losses by the Cardinals and Marlins. Cravy's homer off Locke is the only run that the bullpen has given up in a series that has put Miller Park horrors, at least temporarily, in the past tense where they belong.