By Will Graves
September 21, 2014
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Vance Worley (46) delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Vance Worley is used to his body breaking down at this point in the season.
An unexpected break allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander to regroup. He responded with his sharpest outing in two months to push the fading Milwaukee Brewers closer to an extended vacation of their own.
Bumped from the starting rotation in favor of a seemingly healed Charlie Morton last week, Worley returned with eight sparkling innings in Sunday's 1-0 win over the Brewers as the surging Pirates closed in on a second consecutive playoff berth.
Russell Martin singled home Andrew McCutchen in the seventh inning and the Pirates trapped speedy Carlos Gomez in a rundown in the ninth for the win.
Pittsburgh moved 4 1-2 games in front of Milwaukee for an NL wild-card spot with a week to go. Worley (8-4) scattered four hits and the Pirates used some smart fielding in the ninth to help All-Star setup man Tony Watson pick up his first save of the year.
''I got the start off, got some time to get my feet back under me,'' Worley said. ''This is the deepest I've gone into the season the last couple years with injury, so this was good for me.''
Certainly looked like it. The Pirates sent Worley to the bullpen last week when Morton returned from a sports hernia. Morton pitched five shutout innings in a victory over the Red Sox only to have the hernia flare up late in his outing. He's gone indefinitely and Worley is back in and probably not going anywhere after striking out five and not issuing a walk while throwing 63 of his 82 pitches for strikes.
''Vance wasn't nitpicking,'' said Martin, his catcher.
The Brewers - who led the Pirates by 9 1-2 games in May - dropped two of three in the series, scoring just three runs in 27 innings. They had a chance to send it to extra innings in the ninth only to run themselves into trouble.
Gomez led off with a single against Watson, pressed into the closer's role with Mark Melancon unavailable after working three straight games. Pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks beat out a chopper for an infield hit that squired out of first baseman Gaby Sanchez's glove.
Gomez saw the ball pop out and started heading to third before suddenly pulling up. That led to a rundown that squelched the rally.
''If I continued to run, it would have been really easy to make it to third because everybody broke for that ball and nobody was on third,'' Gomez said. ''So I don't know why I stopped. It's just a mistake that you learn from.''
The Brewers are running out of time. Pittsburgh's magic number dropped to three with seven games remaining, scoring the game's only run on Martin's RBI single off Wily Peralta (16-11).
It was Martin's second go-ahead hit in three days. He had a three-run homer in the eighth on Friday night to propel the Pirates to a 4-2 victory. This time he skipped the dramatics and opted for simple contact.
McCutchen led off the seventh with an infield single, moved to third on a passed ball and a wild pitch and trotted home when Martin singled up the middle to extend his hitting streak to 12 games.
''Whenever another team gives you an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it,'' Martin said.
The Pirates improved to 51-30 at home, their best season at PNC Park since it opened in 2001 and their highest win total since going 53-28 at Three Rivers Stadium in 1992. They did it on a day they set a franchise record for single season attendance, topping 2.4 million on the year.
''It's a blue-collar team,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. ''It's a Pittsburgh team.''
One that sprinting toward the playoffs yet again after ending a record streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons in 2013.
Peralta was every bit Worley's equal. Martin's single was the first Pittsburgh hit to reach the outfield grass. Still, it wasn't quite enough as the Brewers fell to 2-13 in their last 15 road games.
''It sure doesn't look good,'' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. ''They're a good team, they're playing well. You don't expect them to not play well here the last (seven) games. And we've got to basically win it out. It's not easy to do.''
Brewers: Milwaukee is off Monday and opens a three-game series at Cincinnati on Tuesday. Mike Fiers (6-3, 1.78 ERA) will make his ninth start of the season. Fiers allowed one run in seven innings against St. Louis last week.
Pirates: Pittsburgh begins its season-ending seven-game road trip in Atlanta on Monday. Francisco Liriano (6-10, 3.45 ERA) has allowed three earned runs in his last five starts (33 innings). Liriano is 5-4 with a 2.39 ERA since returning from the disabled list in July.
HOME SWEET HOME
The Pirates recorded their 23rd sellout in Sunday's finale to break club record for attendance in a single season, drawing 2,442,564. The team is 101-61 over the last two years at home.
''You've got 100 wins, it really is home sweet home,'' Hurdle said. ''It has now become an event, not just something, 'Hey, we can do this.' You're marking your calendars, you're picking dates, you're swapping tickets, you're buying tickets. You're moving things out of the way to make sure you get to this game.''