By Thomas Harding and George Von Benko
PITTSBURGH -- Aramis Ramirez's three-run, first-inning homer and J.A. Happ's solid 5 2/3 innings were all the Pirates needed in a 4-3 victory Saturday night at PNC Park. The second-place Pirates kept pace in the National League Central, remaining 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.
Ramirez hit his 13th homer of the season, and second since arriving in a trade with the Brewers, after Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen singled with one out. Those were three of the five hits, and all of the runs, Pittsburgh managed against Rockies lefty Chris Rusin (4-7). But they were enough for the Pirates -- leading the NL Wild Card race -- to win their seventh in the last eight games and 10th in the last 12.
"We'd like to win the division," Ramirez said. "I think we have a chance. We've got two more series against St. Louis, one here and one there. You never know, but that's what you want, we're in a good position to win the Wild Card, but we want the division."
Happ (3-1 since a trade from the Mariners, 7-7 overall) held the Rockies to one run -- Charlie Blackmon's fielder's-choice grounder scored Brandon Barnes, who doubled to lead off the third -- and five hits.
Nick Hundley cut the difference to one run with his 10th homer of the season, a two-run shot with no outs in the ninth against Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Daniel Descalso followed with a single before Melancon induced a pair of line drives. The second, from Blackmon on a called hit-and-run, resulted in a game-ending double play. Melancon escaped with his Majors-leading 43rd save, which tied him with Jose Mesa (2004) for second-most in club history and put him three behind record-holder Mike Williams (2002).
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Don't run on me: A night after throwing out two runners, one at the plate, Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco intimidated the Rockies out of a possible run. With Blackmon at third and one out in the third, Jose Reyes flied to Polanco. Blackmon, who didn't seem to get much of a jump, decided not to test Polanco's arm. Polanco's throw sailed to Happ, who was backing up the plate, but Blackmon couldn't go by then. Happ then made Carlos Gonzalez pop to the mound.
"That turned out to be a big play," Happ said. "That was great we were able to keep them out. It's nice to have those guys in the outfield. I was talking about their players being dynamic, we've got three pretty dynamic guys, too."
"That ball was too shallow," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "After last night ... you don't know he's going to throw that ball high. It's got to be deeper than that to tag."
Happ golden: Happ, acquired by the Pirates at the Trade Deadline from Seattle, turned in another strong start, allowing one run on five hits. Happ has surrendered just two runs in his last four starts (23 innings). More >
"Happ had to pitch out of some traffic," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had to pitch a little more out of the stretch today. I thought he still got in some good sequences and he got out of some jams. Overall, the outing again was very solid and very consistent."
"It was a battle all night long," Happ said. "They fouled a lot of balls off and battled everybody that was in there. I was just trying to move it around and locate and execute pitches, but it was still tough."
Managing the lineup: At the time of Ramirez's homer, Rusin -- coming off a messy home start against the Mets -- had coughed up 14 runs in his last 2 1/3 innings. But he barely faced trouble thereafter. In the fourth, after a Ben Paulsen throwing error put Francisco Cervelli at third, Rusin intentionally walked Neil Walker, then struck out Happ. It was not the most efficient outing -- 113 pitches in six innings -- but Rusin achieved his 10th quality start. More >
"I made one pretty big mistake which cost us pretty much the game," Rusin said. "I didn't get in as far as I wanted to. But after that I was able to settle down and keep the hitters off-balance. It was tough because the first inning always takes the wind out of your sails at the beginning. We ended up fighting back."
You get two chances: The Rockies couldn't convert the two opportunities Happ gave them. With two on and two out in the fourth, Barnes grounded out to third. The Rockies put runners at first and third with two out in the sixth, but the Pirates called on reliever Arquimedes Caminero, who needed one pitch to induce a groundout from Hundley to third.
"[Melancon has] changed a lot since I caught him in college -- he's a lot better -- but fortunately I felt good. Me and Blake [Doyle, the Rockies' hitting coach] made a good adjustment today in the cage and I felt much better in the box." -- Hundley, on homering off his former teammate at the University of Arizona
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Ramirez's homer was his first as a Pirate at PNC Park since July 20, 2003, when he homered against Milwaukee.
"I got a good pitch to hit," Ramirez said. "I was just trying to drive the ball. The last thing I want to do in that situation is hit a ground ball, just make sure I bring the run home." More >
• Nolan Arenado's eighth-inning single off the left-field wall -- he didn't try for second because Starling Marte made a quick recovery and accurate throw -- ended an 0-for-15 skid for the Rockies' All-Star third baseman.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Rockies left-hander Jason Gurka made his Major League debut in the bottom of the seventh inning, allowing singles to Walker and pinch-hitter Michael Morse to begin his night. Gurka then retired Polanco on an RBI infield grounder before turning it over to Gonzalez Germen.
WHAT'S NEXT Rockies: Lefty Jorge De La Rosa (7-6, 4.61 ERA) will try to prevent the Rockies from being swept when he starts the series finale Sunday (11:35 a.m. MT).
Pirates: Right-hander Charlie Morton (8-5, 4.20 ERA) will make his 18th start on Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at PNC Park. Morton is 5-1 this year at home.