September 22, 2014
Andrew McCutchen (22) follows through on a solo-home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates have played three straight 1-0 games, but they're pitching so well that maybe it doesn't matter.
''We always talk about scoring one more run than the other team,'' manager Clint Hurdle said, ''and the last three games we did it twice.''
Andrew McCutchen homered, Francisco Liriano won his fourth straight start and Pittsburgh moved closer to the postseason with a 1-0 victory Monday night over the Atlanta Braves.
The Pirates, winners in 10 of their last 12, have a five-game lead over Milwaukee with six games remaining for both teams. Any combination of two Pittsburgh wins or Brewers losses will guarantee the Pirates at least a spot in the NL wild-card game for the second straight year.
Pittsburgh still has hopes of winning the NL Central, but it remained 2 1/2 games back after St. Louis beat the Cubs 8-0 in Chicago. Milwaukee didn't play Monday.
Hurdle has watched his starters pitch 23 consecutive scoreless innings. The Pirates' bullpen has 1.15 ERA over its last 17 games.
''We're just playing,'' Hurdle said. ''You'd like to score more but we didn't, and we made it stand up.''
McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, hit his 24th homer in the sixth off starter Aaron Harang. He enjoyed shutting up some fans that had been heckling from behind home plate.
''They like to talk to you as if you're an animal in the zoo, and you can't say anything back,'' McCutchen said. ''I had a little bit of that going into that at-bat and I hit the big home run. I couldn't hear anything. It was as quiet as a church. It's always good to get the last laugh.''
Liriano (7-10) allowed three hits, walked four and struck out seven in six innings. He extended his consecutive scoreless streak to 28 innings.
Liriano has a 0.69 ERA over his last five starts and 39 innings. He left the game when Jose Tabata pinch-hit in the seventh.
''We had some people on base, but he was effectively wild,'' Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ''He got deep in counts and all of a sudden throw a backdoor slider on some of those right-handers and locked them up.
Mark Melancon faced four batters in the ninth to earn his 32nd save in 36 chances. Jared Hughes pitched the seventh and John Holdzkom the eighth for Pittsburgh, combining for three strikeouts and one hit allowed.
Atlanta lost its fourth straight to drop to 4-15 in September, worst in the majors. The Braves were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.
The team's struggles, combined with a bloated payroll and punchless offense, led to the firing of general manager Frank Wren earlier in the day.
Harang (11-12) allowed four hits and one run with two walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings.
Atlanta, dragged down again by a sluggish offense, fell to 8-53 when scoring two runs or less.
Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (10-5) has won three straight starts and seven of his last nine decisions.
Braves: LHP Alex Wood (11-10) helped beat the Pirates in his only start against them on Aug. 19, but did not receive a decision.
Atlanta LF Justin Upton hopes that his older brother, CF B.J. Upton, gets a chance to return for a third season despite a .197 batting average and 321 strikeouts in 264 games with the Braves.
The team still owes B.J. Upton over $46.3 million through 2017.
''When it's not going your way, it's just not going your way,'' Justin Upton said. ''He's going to have to pick himself up and try to come back next year stronger. That's in the cards for him.''
DROP ME DOWN
Braves RF Jason Heyward, sidelined the last four games by a bruised left thumb, prefers to bat farther down in the lineup next year. He's spent most of the last two seasons as the primary leadoff hitter.
''If you have someone who can run the bases like me in the middle of the lineup, I like it,'' Heyward said. ''Not being a table setter in the leadoff spot versus going, 'Hey, get a guy over. You don't have to have a big hit here.' Take some pressure off somebody.''
IT'S ABOUT TIME
The Braves' losing ways have made closer Craig Kimbrel a nearly forgotten man. Kimbrel, tied for the NL lead with 44 saves, faced the minimum in the ninth in just his 16th appearance since Aug. 1. It was a non-save situation.