MIAMI -- Led by another strong start from left-hander J.A. Happ and Gregory Polanco's four-hit night, the Pirates continued their dominance against the National League East with a 5-2 win over the Marlins on Monday.
Happ fired six scoreless innings, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out six. Since his disappointing Pirates debut on Aug. 4, Happ has pitched 17 1/3 innings over three starts and permitted only one run.
"J.A.'s working his way into a position of confidence. It's what we want to see," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Happ, acquired in a July 31 trade with the Mariners. "It's what we believed we could help him find his way back to. We'll see how it continues to play out. Right now, he's in a really good place on the mound."
The Marlins made it interesting in the ninth inning, cutting the Pirates' lead to three runs and forcing them to summon closer Mark Melancon to replace left-hander Antonio Bastardo. But Melancon quelled Miami's rally, recording his Major League-leading 40th save.
"Bullpen came in and shut it down, like they've been doing," Happ said. "That's awful fun to watch."
With the victory, their third straight, the Pirates moved a season-high 27 games over .500 at 75-48 and maintained their three-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Wild Card standings. With the Cardinals' win on Monday, the Pirates remain 3 1/2 games behind in the NL Central. They also improved to 22-8 against the NL East this season. Pittsburgh has won six straight and 11 of its last 13 games against Miami.
Marlins starter Tom Koehler rebounded from a shaky five-start stretch, holding the Pirates to two runs over six innings as he threw a season-high 112 pitches. Miami snapped a string of 21 straight scoreless innings on J.T. Realmuto's RBI groundout, which scored Marcell Ozuna, who doubled, in the seventh.
"They capitalized putting three hits together and scoring two runs," Koehler said of the top of the third inning. "I got out of some tough situations, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cutch in the clutch: The Pirates' top-of-the-order outfielders showed off their power and speed in the third inning, putting together a two-out rally to take an early lead. Polanco smashed a ground ball single into right field and dashed to third on Starling Marte's single to right. Up came Andrew McCutchen, who laced a two-run double to right field.
Prado starts sparkling DP: Trailing by two runs in the fifth inning, Koehler was able to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam, largely because of a smartly-turned 5-2-3 double play, started by third baseman Martin Prado. Jung-Ho Kang bounced to Prado's glove side. The veteran made the play, spun and threw home to get the lead out (Polanco). Realmuto made a nice turn, after securing the out at home, he created a throwing lane and was able to get Kang at first. After a walk to Neil Walker, again loading the bases, the threat ended when Francisco Cervelli popped out to first. More >
Koehler grinds out six: It was a hard-fought quality start for Koehler, who grinded out six innings when it appeared he could have been done in the fourth or fifth innings. The right-hander allowed two runs on seven hits with four walks and six strikeouts. Koehler logged a season-high 112 pitches, which matched the second most of his career. Koehler last threw 112 pitches in seven innings against the Nationals on April 15, 2014. His career high is 113 pitches on Aug. 1, 2013, against the Mets.
"It's not like this popped out of nowhere and he kissed a Blarney Stone and all of a sudden he can pitch. The guy's got a good arm." -- Hurdle, on Happ
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
This was McCutchen's 1,000th career game. Since making his Major League debut on June 4, 2009, the Pirates' star center fielder ranks first in the NL in hits, runs, doubles and extra-base hits.
A wild streak by Miami's bullpen led to reliever Erik Cordier being ejected in the top of the eighth inning. The second pitch Cordier threw was a 98-mph fastball that ran up and in and struck Sean Rodriguez. Home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg immediately ejected the Miami reliever. In the previous inning, Miami's Brian Ellington plunked Marte with a 97-mph fastball. The rookie then threw a fastball that was high and tight to McCutchen. The ejection was the third for the Marlins this season.
"Both sides were pitching inside," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said. "Unfortunately, we hit two of their guys. With the two hit batsmen, nine bases on balls. I think they had like 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position. We weren't trying to add more to that. Again, I didn't understand it." More >
With a runner on first base and nobody out in the eighth inning, Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer hit a ground ball toward Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon. After struggling to get a hold of the ball, Gordon picked it up and fired to first to force out Mercer. The Pirates challenged the ruling on the field, but it stood after a two-minute, four-second review.
The Marlins challenged what would have been a double-play grounder by Realmuto in the ninth inning. But after a review of one minute, two seconds the call was overturned. But on the very next pitch, Adeiny Hechavarria bounced into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play. Miami challenged that call, but after a review of 45 seconds, the call was confirmed, ending the game.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: The Bucs have won each of right-hander Charlie Morton's last five starts, a trend they'll look to continue on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Marlins Park. Morton has posted a 2.93 ERA over his last five outings while striking out 35 batters in 30 2/3 innings.
Marlins:Brad Hand (3-3, 4.46 ERA) gets the nod on Tuesday for the 7:10 p.m. ET start against Pittsburgh. The lefty is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings at Marlins Park this season.