PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Gerrit Cole earned his Major League-leading 12th win of the season as the Pirates reached the midpoint of their season with a 5-3 win over the Indians on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
Cole pitched eight innings, struck out five and retired the final 16 batters he faced in Pittsburgh's 81st game of the season. First baseman Pedro Alvarez started the Bucs' big rally in the fifth with a two-run homer, and center fielder Andrew McCutchen finished it with a two-run double.
"Any amount of runs you give up early, you're just trying to go deep into the ballgame at that point," Cole said. "Trying to eat up some innings for the bullpen, keep your team in the game as long as you can because you never know what's going to happen."
Indians right-hander Danny Salazar faced just one batter over the minimum while striking out seven in his first four innings of work. But he quickly unraveled in the fifth, giving up six hits and exiting before he could finish the inning.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Strike and score:Michael Bourn was at the heart of the Indians' run scoring in the top of the second inning. The speedster opened the game's scoring with a line-drive single through the right side of the infield, plating Carlos Santana. Moments later, Bourn broke for second base. He beat the errant throw, which ended up in center, allowing him to easily advance to third. From there, he scored on a single by Roberto Perez.
Pedro goes oppo: Alvarez kicked off the Pirates' fifth-inning rally by launching a two-run homer to left-center field. It was Alvarez's first homer with a man on base since Aug. 23, 2014, as his previous 13 had been solo shots. It was also Alvarez's first opposite-field home run since May 25. This one quickly sliced into Cleveland's 3-0 lead and began Pittsburgh's five-run inning.
"That swing right there, those two runs, gave us a lift," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's no doubt about it."
Pleading the fifth: Salazar breezed through the first four innings, striking out seven with one hit and no runs allowed. In the fifth, the righty surrendered five runs on six hits, recording just two outs before being pulled. This season, Salazar has posted a 14.18 ERA (21 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings) with a .438 opponents' average in the fifth inning. Salazar said he needs to look at making adjustments late in outings.
"I think I just need to keep on working and try to figure it out, and see if I'm doing something different than when I start a game," Salazar said.
Cole locks it down: Cole left the Pirates in an early hole, allowing three runs after three innings, but he settled down in a big way after that. After giving up an RBI single to Michael Brantley in the third inning, Cole induced a double-play grounder and threw five perfect innings before giving way to closer Mark Melancon in the ninth.
"He just never gives in. He wants to win any given situation, no matter what the score is. He's not going to let it dictate what he does out there on the mound" -- Pirates catcher Chris Stewart, on Cole
"I think we have a better idea of what kind of baseball we need to play to win games. Pittsburgh is a good team. We're not going to hang our heads just because we lost the series. I think we're figuring it out and playing better baseball. We're going to need more wins coming down the road here" -- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, on the 5-5 road trip
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Cole is just the fifth Pittsburgh pitcher to win 12 games prior to the All-Star break and the first since Ken Brett headed into the break with a 12-6 record in 1974. The other Pirates to accomplish the feat were Dock Ellis (14-3 in 1971), Elroy Face (12-0 in '59) and Rip Sewell (12-2 in '43).
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Stewart was called out at first base on a ground ball to Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor. However, the Pirates challenged the call, and after a review of one minute, 16 seconds, the decision on the field was overturned, and Stewart was safe at first. Stewart would later score on a Neil Walker single.
Later in the afternoon, it was the Indians challenging a call at first base. In the bottom of the seventh with two outs, Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison was called safe at first after legging out a short chopper to Lindor. Cleveland challenged the ruling, but after a review lasting one minute, 37 seconds, the call on the field stood.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Fresh off nearly completing a no-hitter in his last outing, Carlos Carrasco will hit the hill again as the Indians open a four-game series with the Astros on Monday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Carrasco was one strike away from Cleveland's first no-hitter since 1981. The 28-year-old Venezuelan (10-6, 3.88 ERA) recorded 13 strikeouts and tossed a career-high 124 pitches in the no-hit bid.
Pirates: Right-hander A.J. Burnett (7-3, 2.05 ERA) will look to continue his dominant first half as the Pirates open a three-game series against the Padres at 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday night at PNC Park. Burnett has won seven of his last nine decisions and posted a 1.77 ERA over his last five outings. He's been particularly effective at home, putting together a 1.29 ERA in seven starts at PNC Park this season.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.