Pittsburgh Pirates outfielders Andrew McCutchen, left, Starling Marte (6) and Gregory Polanco (25) run off the field after the team's 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte could feel the jitters as he darted out of the dugout and onto the field in a major league game for the first time in three months. The Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder dreaded what may await following an 80-game performance-enhancing suspension that staggered his team in mid-April leading to a funk from which it is now just emerging.
Then the fans rose to their feet and greeted Marte with an ovation. He exhaled. And the player the Pirates are hoping can help them elbow their way back into the crowded NL Central checked all the boxes. He made a diving grab of a sinking liner to end the first inning. He slapped a single through the middle in the fourth and drew a four-pitch walk in the sixth that served as the kindling of a two-out rally that helped the Pirates edge the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 on Tuesday night.
"Today's a new era, a new journey," said Marte, who finished 1 for 3 in his first game since April 17. "It feels great. I felt good and I'm just excited to continue battling out there and helping get victories for our team."
Pittsburgh's late surge began in the bottom of the sixth when Francisco Cervelli led off with a home run. Marte walked with two outs and scored on Josh Harrison's blast to the seats in right field that tied the game. David Freese put the Pirates ahead later in the inning with an RBI single off reliever Oliver Drake(3-3) as Pittsburgh won its third straight to pull within five games of the first-place Brewers.
Ivan Nova (10-6) survived six innings to get the win. Felipe Rivero worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth for his eighth save as the Pirates drew within two games of .500 (46-48) for the first time since May.
Travis Shaw went 3 for 4, including a three-run homer off Nova in the third but was ejected along with manager Craig Counsell in the eighth for arguing with home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski. Eric Thames, Hernan Perez and Manny Pina all had two hits each but Milwaukee left eight runners on while losing its third straight for the first time since early June.
Brewers starter Junior Guerra faced the minimum over his first five innings in his return from a trip to the disabled list with a right shin contusion.
It all unraveled in the sixth. Guerra exited after Harrison put a ball over the 21-foot high Clemente Wall to tie the game.
"It's the best we've seen him this year," Counsell said of Guerra. "It's really something positive to build on. He made some mistakes in the sixth with his fastball and he got behind."
Marte spent most of his suspension at Pittsburgh's minor league complex in Florida, watching the Pirates fight to stay on the fringe of the wide-open Central. If there's any anger at what he called a "careless" mistake, it didn't show.
The two-time Gold Glover was greeted by applause when he jogged out to his post before the first pitch. The cheers grew louder when he made a sliding grab on a sinking liner by Milwaukee's Ryan Braun -- who still gets booed at PNC Park four years removed from his own PED suspension -- to end the inning.
"That's the way I play," Marte said. "It feels good to be back. I'm healthy, I'm focused. Starting off with a play like that, reminds not only the people but especially me this is where I belong."
Still, for the first five innings it looked like Milwaukee was going to spoil the "welcome back" party. The Brewers pounded Nova over six innings but only managed three runs, all coming on a towering shot to the concourse in right-center field by Shaw with one out in the third, the third baseman's fifth extra-base hit in his last 11 at-bats against Nova and 21st homer of the season.
It could have been worse for the Pirates, but a single by Thames clipped teammate Domingo Santana between first and second and Perez was caught stealing later in the inning. It bought Nova time to calm down and Pittsburgh time to figure out Guerra. When they did, they took off.
"The first two times through, they made some pitches," Harrison said. "I think that third time through, we were able to work him. Marte worked a walk and we took advantage."
Brewers: C Stephen Vogt is out for at least a month with a sprained left knee following a collision at home plate on Monday night. Counsell says Vogt will miss "significant time" after getting inadvertently bowled over by Pittsburgh pitcher Chad Kuhl on a play at the plate. The team recalled Jett Bandy from Triple-A Colorado Springs to fill in.
Brewers: Zach Davies (11-4, 5.08 ERA) goes for his fifth straight win on Wednesday. The Brewers have scored 8.75 runs per game during Davies' current streak.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole (7-7, 4.35 ERA) will make his third start this season against Milwaukee.