Shutout of Giants pulls Bucs up in playoff hunt

Shutout of Giants pulls Bucs up in playoff hunt

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning Thursday and was supported by Neil Walker's two-run homer and opposite-field RBI doubles by Aramis Ramirez and Jung Ho Kang as the Pirates downed San Francisco, 4-0, before the 19th sellout of the season at PNC Park.

Morton improved his record to 8-4, his most wins since 2010, by continuing to neutralize left-handed hitters with a wicked curve that has become his "go-to pitch when I need a strikeout." He struck out eight Thursday, giving him 17 in the 13 innings of his last two starts.

"Charlie is developing into a more complete pitcher," said Buccos manager Clint Hurdle. "A pitcher with a sinkerball, rather than a sinkerball pitcher. His curve has so much tilt and depth."

Their 72nd win improved the Bucs' standing in two races, moving them within 4 1/2 games of idle St. Louis' National League Central lead and pulling them eight games ahead of the Giants for a Wild Card spot. The Pirates are in control of the NL's No. 1 Wild Card and trail the Cardinals by four games in the loss column.

Morton allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings to outpitch fellow veteran Jake Peavy, who went six innings and gave up four runs, two of them on Walker's 13th homer in the sixth.

Statcast: Walker's two-run shot

"I know [Peavy] tries to be aggressive with his cutter and change," Walker said. "I tried to take whatever he was giving, but was able to pull a couple pitches and, fortunately, one of them was good for two runs."

Too hot to mishandle? Ramirez and Kang, whose starting-lineup tenures are clouded by the impending returns of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, continued to complicate manager Clint Hurdle's upcoming decisions by driving in the Bucs' first two runs, on two-baggers in the first and third innings. More >

Aramis' RBI double

Stranding 'em: After Morton hit two batters and surrendered a single, the Giants had the bases loaded for the only time all game, faced with two outs in the top of the seventh. Right-hander Jared Hughes relieved Morton, and though Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco battled a 2-2 count, he lined out to end San Francisco's lone true threat of the evening.

Hughes gets huge out

"Blanco hit the ball hard, and it's a different game if we find the gap with that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It didn't play out. ... So that's that." More >

"I look at our record against the West and go, 'Wow.' Then I look at the record against the Central and go, 'Wow.'" -- Hurdle, with a distinctively different tone when referencing the Bucs' 17-3 record against teams in the NL West and 21-29 against those in their own division.

Thursday's victory set the Pirates record against NL West teams at 17-3, a winning percentage of .850. The top interdivisional record since the 1994 advent of three divisions is the 2002 Yankees' .806 (29-7) versus the American League Central. The 1998 Braves went .750 (33-11) against the West for the best NL interdivisional record. More >

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez was called safe at first base after Giants third baseman Matt Duffy made an acrobatic throw across his body, causing Brandon Belt to stretch for it. The Giants challenged that the ball beat Alvarez, and after a review of two minutes and 46 seconds, the replay umpires agreed, overturning the call and declaring the runner out.

Duffy's jump-throw challenged

Giants: On Friday night at 4:05 p.m. PT, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner will make his first start against the Pirates since his shutout in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game. The scintillating southpaw tossed 10 strikeouts and walked one batter in that game, and his current form is taking similar shape. Bumgarner has a 0.71 ERA with 35 strikeouts and one walk in his last three starts.

Pirates: The Bucs will be looking to continue their remarkable home record behind Jeff Locke when the lefty faces the Giants at 7:10 p.m. ET Friday in the second game of the series. The Pirates have gone 17-7 in Locke's starts at PNC Park the last two seasons, 9-4 this season.

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John McGonigal is an associate reporter for Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.