MILWAUKEE -- Right on schedule, here come the Pirates.
John Jaso and Gregory Polanco hit solo home runs in a go-ahead sixth inning Sunday, and Starling Marte added an insurance shot in the eighth as Ivan Nova and charging Pittsburgh finished a four-game sweep of Milwaukee with a 3-1 win at Miller Park.
With their fifth win in six games and 14th win in 22 games, the Pirates pulled even in the loss column with the Cardinals in the race for the second National League Wild Card. The Cardinals are 68-61, and the Pirates, bidding for a fourth consecutive postseason appearance, are one-half game back at 67-61.
"It was a really good series on the road for us," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We played good baseball. Everybody threw something in."
All four runs in Sunday's game scored on solo homers. Pirates starter Nova surrendered Jonathan Villar's third-inning shot but only two other harmless hits before yielding to a pinch-hitter after six innings because of left hamstring discomfort. Nova dueled with Milwaukee's Chase Anderson for five frames before the Pirates struck in the sixth, beginning with Jaso's first home run since June 22. Two batters later it was Polanco, whose pinch-hit double provided the winning margin a day earlier. He connected with an Anderson changeup for a line-drive homer and a 2-1 lead.
The Pirates, who entered the series 17-64 at Miller Park since 2007, swept a four-game series in Milwaukee for the first time. They had not swept a series of any length here since 2004.
"Obviously, for a long time, we had a lot of success against them here, but it's never something we took for granted. It's never something you expect to continue," said Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth against Pirates closer Tony Watson.
"We were in three of the four games, played pretty well. Could have gone either way. But credit to them. Great bullpen, quality starters up and down the lineup, challenging at-bats for our pitching staff. There's a reason they've won so many games the last few years."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED National League Nova: Nova has been a different pitcher since coming to the Pirates from the Yankees in an Aug. 1 trade. The right-hander now has a 2.87 ERA over 31 1/3 innings in five starts with Pittsburgh. He was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in 21 outings and 15 starts with New York.
"We were very pleased with that effort," Hurdle said. "Man, he got out there and got after it after a nine-inning outing last time out. He was pitch-efficient again. You look at the scoreboard after four innings, and he's thrown 12 balls. It was really fun to watch."
Nova began feeling tightness in his left hamstring in the fifth inning. He decided to make Hurdle aware of the situation before his scheduled at-bat in the sixth.
"I was trying not to think about," Nova said. "I was trying to keep making my pitches. It was my first time experiencing something like that, so I decided to tell the manager." More >
Third time was no charm: Anderson was 89 pitches into the game and one batter into his third time through the Pirates' lineup when manager Craig Counsell opted to send the right-hander back to the mound for the sixth. It proved a costly half-inning, as Anderson topped 100 pitches for the first time in 16 healthy starts since May 22 and surrendered the tying and go-ahead home runs. Polanco's shot came on Anderson's 101st pitch.
Asked whether sending Anderson out for the sixth was a difficult call, Counsell said, "It certainly was. It's kind of the decision you have to make every game when a pitcher is at that point. He'd thrown five really solid innings, he'd pitched very well, and in the game situation ... with our bullpen, how much it's been used, we're trying to get another inning out of him. And then who was up. The lefties ... [for Pittsburgh]. But it's a tough call."
Shutting it down: Pittsburgh's bullpen continued its dominance in the series by pitching three scoreless innings. Pirates relievers allowed two runs with 25 strikeouts over 16 1/3 innings (1.10 ERA) in the four games against the Brewers.
"We've been blessed with a good bullpen since 2013," Hurdle said. "This bullpen has been able to hit a switch here lately. … It has been a collective work of very solid pitching out there by everybody." More >
Villar connects: Villar came to Milwaukee from Houston with 10 home runs in 658 Major League plate appearances. Including Sunday's 413-foot homer off Nova, Villar has 11 home runs this season in 550 plate appearances, while also ranking second in the National League with 50 stolen bases.
"We're going to leave here in a good place. Now we have to show up in Chicago. I don't think you can ask for much more here at the end of August. We get to go play meaningful games in the hunt. It should be fun."-- Hurdle
"They've got a chance, for sure. That's a good lineup, it's tough to face those guys. It's fun to face teams like the Pirates and the Cubs, because you can see where you sit and where you're at. That's a good team over there, and they've got a chance. -- Anderson, on the Pirates
NICE PLAY, ROOK
Rookie shortstop Orlando Arcia made arguably his finest play in the field to date, ranging 15 feet to his right and firing a 117-foot throw to first base, according to Statcast™, to retire Andrew McCutchen for the final out of the seventh. It was the kind of play the Brewers expect to see more from Arcia, who showed a knack for flashy defense during his Minor League tenure and in winter ball in Venezuela.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: With Gerrit Cole having his scheduled start scratched, Pittsburgh will recall Steven Brault from Triple-A Indianapolis to start Monday's series opener in Chicago at 8:05 p.m. ET. Brault is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two Major League starts this season.
Brewers: The Brewers and Cardinals meet for the first time since early July, as St. Louis comes to Miller Park for the first of three games at 6:20 p.m. CT on Monday. Zach Davies, who pitched eight scoreless innings with three hits in his only career start against the Cardinals on June 1, starts opposite Cards righty Carlos Martinez.