PITTSBURGH -- The 2015 National League Central title shouldn't have to go through Milwaukee, which is having a transitional season. But the Pirates finally had to get past the Brewers on Friday to regain some momentum in the race, and they did, with Chris Stewart driving in three runs in a 6-3 victory at PNC Park.
With the victory, the Bucs snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Brewers and found themselves four games behind division-leading St. Louis, whose game in Cincinnati was suspended due to rain in the eighth with the teams tied at 2 and will be completed Saturday. The Pirates' Wild Card lead dropped to two games over the Cubs, who swept a doubleheader in Philadelphia.
The Brewers jumped into a quick 2-0 lead on Adam Lind's two-run homer in the first off Charlie Morton, who then blanked them on one hit for the remainder of his six-inning outing.
"A four-seam fastball down the middle," Morton said of the pitch that Lind hit out. "It's not necessarily what you want to do early on, because you can't assume your team will score."
"Again, we got ambushed early," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose team fell into a 3-0 hole to the Brewers on Thursday, eventually losing in 13 innings, 6-4. "As the game went on, the command got sharper, and he was able to work in to left-handers and sink it down to right-handers."
Jimmy Nelson guarded that 2-0 lead into the fourth, when Stewart's two-run single gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead. Stewart singled for another run in the sixth for the third three-RBI game of his career. More >
Nelson was attempting to become the third pitcher since 1973 to beat the Pirates five times in one season (Johnny Cueto last year, and Carlos Zambrano in 2004), but he couldn't get an out in the sixth.
"Just didn't command the ball like I was supposed to," Nelson said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Iceman freezes the Brewers: In losing seven straight to Milwaukee, the one thing the Pirates had not done was blow leads, because they rarely had them. That scenario threatened to unfold as the eighth inning opened, with the Crew putting men on second and third with none out off Arquimedes Caminero. Out went the call for lefty Tony Watson, who did allow an RBI single to Hernan Perez, cutting the lead to 6-3, but then got two strikeouts before getting pinch-hitter Ryan Braun on an inning-ending grounder.
"He kept the game in place," Hurdle said of Watson. "He's shown an ability to be so resilient, so solid and so effective -- against very good hitters. We needed a stop right there, and he gave it to us." More >
Another early offensive: For the second night in a row, the Brewers jumped out of the gates against the Pirates' starter. On Thursday, they put up three runs in A.J. Burnett's first inning. On Friday, Elian Herrera hit a double off Morton with one out in the first inning, and Lind followed with a home run to right-center field to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Work it: The Pirates were putting up their usual weak resistance to Nelson through three hitless innings, in which he averaged fewer than 15 pitches. They made him work in the fourth, when his 27th pitch finally resulted in a run on Jordy Mercer's infield single. The fourth pitch after that was lined into left field by Stewart for a two-run single and a 3-2 lead. Nelson threw 35 pitches in the fourth.
"We were able to make him work," Hurdle said. "He got behind some counts, we got some good looks and better pitches to hit. We took advantage of the one opportunity we had to score three right there."
Close call: The Brewers were a few feet away from getting out of Nelson's big inning unscathed. With two outs and the bases loaded, Mercer finished an eight-pitch at-bat with a bouncer up the middle. Shortstop Luis Sardinas fielded it cleanly and made a tough throw to first, where he might have had a shot to get Mercer. But his throw pulled Lind well off the bag and allowed Mercer to reach safely, the inning to roll on and Stewart to drive in two more runs a few pitches later.
"It's a tough play that you hope you get an out on," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "That was a big play that inning."
"I'm trying to get him reps so he can be the best he can be -- that player who made the All-Star team last year, that player who gives us a 'Go' button." -- Hurdle, on giving a start in left field to erstwhile regular third baseman Josh Harrison, whose single triggered the Bucs' three-run fourth
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Mercer declared it "definitely a Pirates win -- it's what we do,"he probably was not referring to this: The Bucs committed at least three errors in a game for the fifth time this season; they are 3-2 in those games.
Thanks to a successful challenge by the Pirates, Aramis Ramirez picked up his first assist as a first baseman in the third inning. With Scooter Gennett running from first, Ramirez fielded Herrera's grounder, stepped on first then threw to shortstop Mercer. Second-base ump Paul Schrieber ruled Gennett safe under Mercer's tag -- overturned after a quick review for a double play.
The Pirates made it 2-for-2 in the seventh, challenging after first-base ump Jim Reynolds said Logan Schafer beat first baseman Sean Rodriguez's tag on a pickoff throw from Stewart. Replay indicated Rodriguez slapped his glove on Schafer before his right shoe touched the bag.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: Coming off his first Major League win Monday in Miami, 22-year-old right-hander Zach Davies will take the mound for the Brewers at 6:05 p.m. CT on Saturday at PNC Park. Davies allowed four runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Pirates on Sept. 2.
Pirates:Jeff Locke will seek his third win of the season against the Brewers when he faces them on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in PNC Park. The Bucs have won nine of the lefty's first 14 home starts this season.