Pirates' bats erupt to lock up sweep of Cubs

Pirates' bats erupt to lock up sweep of Cubs

Pirates' bats erupt to lock up sweep of Cubs
PITTSBURGH -- He could care less about the Indianapolis 500. "I'm not a car guy," Clint Hurdle confessed early on Sunday, a little before the white flag was waved both at The Brickyard and at PNC Park by the Cubs. But the Pirates manager will be all revved up when the Pittsburgh .500 rolls out on Monday.

"Gentlemen, start your engines," indeed. The hearts of the Bucs and their fans should be racing at home in the Memorial Day matinee. For all of their shortcomings, being branded as a "historically bad offense" and all, the Pirates can reach the .500 level in the opener of the series against the National League Central-leading Reds.

Erik Bedard blanked Chicago on two singles for six innings, until the hitters could shed their shackles and blow out a series-sweeping 10-4 win over the Cubs in front of 27,486.

"If it wasn't for our pitching, we could've been buried early. Five-hundred means we fought back," said Hurdle. "We understand the significance of .500 outside of this room. But it's just a step."

To detonate Sunday's offense, the Bucs clocked three-fourths of a homer cycle: Jacks of three runs by Pedro Alvarez -- the team's first three-run shot of the season -- two runs by Garrett Jones and a solo shot by Andrew McCutchen.

Jones' homer touched off the season's most productive inning, the six-run sixth which also featured Gorkys Hernandez's first big league hit -- a pinch-hit, two-run single.

Reaching .500 would be a Pirates first -- exclusive of the opening weekend of this season -- since Aug. 2, 2011, when they stood 54-54.

"Yeah, it'd be good, but the season's not over," McCutchen said. "We're worried about a championship, not .500. We continue taking it game by game. It'll be nice to play some good ball for the next three games."

With Sunday's win, the Pirates also snapped a streak of 11 straight losses when trying to complete a home-series sweep, since closing their last deal on Sept. 17-19, 2010, against the D-backs.

With one first-inning swing against Chicago starter Matt Garza and a sixth-inning sacrifice fly, Alvarez doubled his previous RBI total since moving into the Pirates' cleanup spot on May 5. In his first 18 games in the slot, he'd driven in four runs -- and his last home run had come as a No. 5 hitter on May 3.

Alvarez picked on a 3-and-1 changeup for his eighth homer -- which briefly gave him the team lead until McCutchen pulled abreast of him four innings later.

"I was up there ready to hit whatever he threw up there," Alvarez said about a pitch that upset Garza's manager.

"[Garza] got beat by pitches he shouldn't be throwing people, really," said Cubs skipper Dale Sveum. "He had a great fastball today, and got beat by his fourth-best pitch. In those situations against a couple guys, velocity gets them -- and he decided to throw changes."

The biggest change in this one, obviously, was the caliber of the Pirates' attack. The 10 runs more than tripled the team's scoring average of 2.8 runs per game.

"We threw some power out there. That kind of game maybe loosens them up. It'd be good to see us get a little more consistent," said Hurdle, who was well aware that none of his players had yet to connect with a couple of teammates on base.

"I'm a big fan of [three-run homers]. It was about time for us to get one of those. Like everything else, I hope they come in bunches. They make your offensive game pick up dramatically."

No kidding. Through their first 46 games, the Pirates had had only four innings in which they'd scored a total of at least three runs. And on one Alvarez swing, there it was.

"With early runs, you can play a little more relaxed. Not lax -- just relaxed," Alvarez said. "A cushion gives pitchers the opportunity to not have to be so perfect. They execute pitches better without all that pressure."

As the game progressed, fans were really pulling for another Chicago hit, a solid one. Everyone hated the thought of the lone hit off Bedard remaining the result of David DeJesus' mighty cut with two outs in the third -- the equivalent of a perfect bunt, a roller 20 feet up the third-base line and inches from it. Joe Mather complied with a hard single to left leading off the fourth -- but it would be the Cubs' final hit off the left-hander.

Bedard's bottom line then was better than his overall line. Adding four walks and numerous other deep counts shortened his outing.

"An effective start from Erik, although a mixed bag," said Hurdle, thinking mainly of the two walks to the only left-handed hitter in Chicago's lineup (DeJesus) and the four leadoff men who reached base. "But when push came to shove, he made pitches. He got the outs he needed."

Reliever Chris Resop put up another zero in the seventh before the Cubs reached him for three eighth-inning runs, two on Starlin Castro's third homer.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.