The Pittsburgh Pirates have won eight games in a row, and fans are starting to notice.
After all, the Pirates own the best record in all of baseball.
Pittsburgh beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Saturday night in front of its fifth straight sellout crowd at home. The Pirates have never had that many consecutive capacity crowds since moving into their new ballpark in 2001.
Long the third-most popular team in a three-team town behind the NFL’s Steelers and NHL’s Penguins, the Pirates are suddenly becoming a hot ticket.
“The energy of the crowds has been unbelievable and we’ve been soaking it all up,” said Pirates closer Jason Grilli, who earned the save. “You absorb it and try to use it to your advantage. We’re playing for ourselves but we’re also playing for about 40,000 people in the stands and an entire city.
“People are dusting off their Pirates shirts and coming out in droves, and we’re trying to give them what they want to see.”
Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones homered, and Francisco Liriano pitched six strong innings to lead the surging Pirates.
Alvarez hit his 20th home run with one out in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 12 games and help the Pirates to their longest winning streak since 2004. Pittsburgh, which has endured 20 consecutive losing seasons, is a major league-best 50-30.
Jones hit a drive to the shrubbery in straightaway center field, his seventh homer, to lead off the fourth inning and increase the Pirates’ lead to 2-0.
That was enough for Liriano (7-3), who improved to 4-1 in five home starts this season.
“We’re having fun, we’re playing hard and we’re giving everything we have,” Liriano said.
Liriano gave up one run and seven hits in six innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Grilli each pitched one scoreless inning of relief. Grilli recorded his 27th save in 28 opportunities.
“Frankie, for as efficient as he was in giving up one run, there were only about six or seven sequences where he threw back-to-back strikes,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “But when he needed to make a pitch, he made a pitch.”
Grilli was pitching for the first time in six days after having his worst outing of the season. He gave up three runs against the Los Angeles Angels in a non-save situation last Sunday before the Pirates held on for a 10-9 win.
“He’s our guy,” Hurdle said. “He was well-rested and I wasn’t the least bit nervous about going to him.”
Donovan Hand (0-1) allowed both home runs but turned in a solid five-inning performance in his second major league start.
Hand was pleased with his outing, except for the home run to Alvarez that cleared the right-field stands, hit a tree and bounced into the Allegheny River.
“I tried to go up and in and left a fat pitch over the middle in his hot zone, and he crushed it,” said Hand, who pitched 4 2-3 scoreless innings in his first start June 28 against Atlanta. “I was aggressive, which is exactly what I wanted to do, just building off of the last start because they swing it a lot.”
Hand has made a good impression on Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.
“I thought Donny threw the ball really well,” Roenicke said. “He understands how to pitch. He understands how to throw strikes.”
Carlos Gomez had two hits for the Brewers, who lost their fifth straight game. He singled with one out in the sixth inning and scored Milwaukee’s run on Yuniesky Betancourt’s single with two outs.
Brewers shortstop Jean Segura extended his hitting streak to 11 games, but second baseman Rickie Weeks’ run ended at a career-best 13 games.
Pittsburgh has won four straight games against Milwaukee and eight of 10 after losing nine in a row.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Hurdle said. “It’s nice to get to 50 wins but we’re just trying to meet the demands of the game, honestly self-evaluate and get better every day. There is still a long way to go.”
NOTES: Milwaukee LF Ryan Braun (bruised left thumb) is scheduled to a swing a bat Tuesday for the first time since going on the disabled list, retroactive to June 10. ... Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez (strained left forearm) won’t make a scheduled rehab start Monday for Triple-A Indianapolis after experiencing discomfort in his forearm Friday during a bullpen session. ... Pirates RHP Sean Burnett (strained right calf) is scheduled to pitch a simulated game Tuesday. That could be the last step before he is activated from the disabled list. ... Brewers RF Norichika Aoki didn’t start for the first time since May 30 as Roenicke decided to rest him. Aoki pinch-hit in the ninth inning and flied out.