The quartet of relievers Alex Torres, Nick Vincent, Kevin Quackenbush and Joaquin Benoit combined to get the final 11 outs, sometimes in harrowing circumstances, as the Padres defeated the Pirates, 2-1, in front of a sold-out crowd of 38,614 at PNC Park.
"Our bullpen did a great job … they've been doing a great job all year," Stults said.
Stults started the seventh inning at 95 pitches, charged with facing the bottom three hitters in the order.
But he allowed a leadoff single to Jayson Nix. Michael Martinez then moved Nix along to second base on a sacrifice bunt. The Pirates went to their bench for pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez, a lefty. Padres manager Bud Black countered with his own lefty, Torres.
Torres got Alvarez on a fly ball to center field for the second out. Black then went to his bullpen again -- this time for righty Vincent to face leadoff hitter Josh Harrison. Harrison hit a comebacker to end the inning. Vincent has now stranded 27 of 28 inherited base runners.
"We felt as though the matchups were advantageous for Alex and Nick," Black said. "Harrison has been on fire. Those were two good pitching performances, even if they were for only one batter [each]."
The eighth inning proved far trickier, as Quackenbush, a rookie, allowed a single to Jordy Mercer and a double to Russell Martin that put runners on second and third with no outs.
"Tough duty there, the Pirates had the momentum. It doesn't look good," Black said.
But he got Ike Davis to break his bat on a soft liner to second baseman Jedd Gyorko, and then struck out Starling Marte on a full-count pitch with a 92 mph fastball. Finally, he got Gregory Polanco to fly out to right field to end the inning.
"Putting the first two guys on isn't the ideal situation," said Quackenbush, who is being used more and more in high-leverage situations. "I did like the way I handled Davis, going inside. The 3-2 pitch on the strikeout was big. To get out of that [situation] is a huge confidence boost."
Benoit didn't have to sweat nearly as much in the ninth inning, as he set the Pirates down in order for his fifth save as the Padres captured the second game of this three-game series.
As for Stults, he allowed one run on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings with no walks and six strikeouts. He was able to mix his pitches and got some mileage out of his backdoor slider, especially after Martin, who struck out twice on it.
"He changes speed, he throws strikes, he keeps the ball down," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "He stayed out of the middle of the plate and we weren't able to get the barrel on a lot of things he was throwing tonight. He worked quick, he worked efficient. It was a well-pitched game by him."
For the second time in as many days, all of the runs were scored in the first inning. The Padres got an RBI single by Gyorko and a sacrifice fly by Yasmani Grandal in the first inning.
The Padres, handcuffed by Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano, didn't get another hit until the eighth inning as pinch-hitter Will Venable singled. Liriano allowed two runs on three hits in seven innings.