MILWAUKEE -- Sean Rodriguez and the Pirates picked a good day to stay hot in the National League Wild Card race.
While the Cardinals, Mets and Marlins all lost, and the Giants fell into a deep early hole against the Dodgers, the Pirates scored another wire-to-wire win over the Brewers in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez's two-run single capped a three-run first inning, and his solo homer in the fourth added insurance on the way to a 4-1 victory.
Andrew McCutchen also homered off Jimmy Nelson, as the Pirates moved ahead of Miami in the Wild Card race and pulled within 3 1/2 games of the Cardinals, Giants and Mets, all of whom lost on Wednesday.
"I think you get to a place where you stop to fight and you start playing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You go back to the thing where you were 6 years old and playing in the backyard. You have to have some fun when you do this."
The Pirates are doing their best to join that jumble of teams at the top. They have won six of their last seven games overall, and six straight at Miller Park.
"It definitely helps when things are going your way, going the way you want them to go," McCutchen said. "That helps it, but sometimes it can be tough when things weren't going the way you wanted it to go to be having fun. You got to find the fun. Things are going in the right direction, so of course fun comes along with it."
Pittsburgh rookie Chad Kuhl held Milwaukee to one run on five hits in six innings before turning the game over to a bullpen that has limited the Brewers to one run over Pirates relievers' last 24 innings at Miller Park. Nelson was out of the game after allowing four earned runs in five innings on six hits, including the two home runs.
"We haven't swung the bats well these first two games," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who has been without Ryan Braun for both games following the birth of Braun's baby boy. "Obviously missing Ryan impacts the offense. We've got a couple of guys certainly who are struggling a little and not at their peak right now."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Rodriguez keeps it going: Just because he's coming off NL Player of the Week honors didn't mean that Rodriguez would start cooling off. With the bases loaded in the first, he singled to right to score Gregory Polanco and David Freese. Then, leading off the fourth, Rodriguez belted an 0-1 slider 406 feet, according to Statcast™, into the left-field bleachers. Rodriguez is riding a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .362 (17-for-47) with six homers and a .766 slugging percentage in September.
"It is a 10-game hitting streak," Hurdle said. "Three RBIs tonight. It has been fun to watch. He's taking good, aggressive swings in the zone and driving in big runs."
Counsell ejected: Counsell watched the second half of the game from his office after earning an ejection from home-plate umpire Jerry Layne in the fourth. Counsell objected to Layne's delayed riling that Adam Frazier's two-out bouncer to first base had struck Frazier's foot for a foul ball.
"Overall, what upset me is he just missed the call," Counsell said. "More than anything, I felt like he changed his call." More >
'Cutch him if you can: Not many homers are skied higher than McCutchen's to put the Pirates on the board in the first. After Nelson retired the first two batters of the game, McCutchen lofted one with a 42-degree launch angle for a Statcast-projected 401 feet to left. It was the second-highest launch angle on a homer by a Pirates batter this season and McCutchen's 17th career long ball at Miller Park -- tied for second-most among opposing players.
"That is the highest ball I've seen hit here," Hurdle said. "I was curious whether it was going to stay fair or foul, and then it really wasn't that big of a question fair or foul but how high it went. To hit it that far, that high, that was different."
Said McCutchen: "I thought it was going foul off the bat. I took a good swing on it, but it was a fastball in off the plate. I pulled my hands in, I looked up and it kind of had a little tail to it so I was about to turn around and get ready for the next pitch and next thing I know, I looked up and it was coming back." More >
Hard luck: Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett's results were typical of the Brewers' frustration against Kuhl. Gennett produced exit velocities in excess of 96 mph in each of his first three at-bats but had only one hit to show for it, a first-inning double. Gennett's 106-mph lineout in the sixth was the second-hardest ball in play all night, to McCutchen's home run, but was a lineout to McCutchen in center field.
"We're trying to finish strong," Gennett said. "So it's frustrating, but there's always positives that we can find."
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong has allowed 20 earned runs over his last 17 2/3 innings and will look to reverse that trend on Thursday at 8:10 p.m. ET in Milwaukee.
Brewers:Chase Anderson owns a 2.39 ERA over his last 10 starts entering Thursday's 7:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Pirates. He has a 3.74 ERA in seven career starts against PIttsburgh.