MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates aren't sunk just yet. A 6-3 win over the Brewers on Tuesday was the Bucs' fifth victory in six games, offering faint hope for Andrew McCutchen & Co. of another berth in the National League Wild Card Game.
McCutchen's two-run double in the first inning propelled the Pirates on a night they never trailed, and Josh Bell and Jordy Mercer also drove in two runs apiece while Clint Hurdle managed like it was October.
The Pirates are 4 1/2 games behind the Mets, Cardinals and Giants for the two NL Wild Card spots, also looking up at the Marlins in the standings.
Martín Maldonado hit a solo homer for the Brewers off Pirates starter Steven Brault before Hurdle tapped his bullpen with a 5-2 lead and a Milwaukee rally brewing in the fifth. Relievers Jared Hughes, Wade LeBlanc, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo and Tony Watson (14th save) combined to record the final 15 outs for the Pirates' fifth consecutive win at Miller Park.
• Hurdle leans on Bucs bullpen
"I kind of dug my own grave as far as not being able to finish the fifth," said Brault, who is 0-3 in seven Major League starts. "I understand that. I'm not upset about that. I kept my team in it even though I couldn't go the five and get the win. I kept my team in it and we got the win. We're making a playoff push, that's all that matters right now."
For the Brewers, it was a letdown after taking three of four games from the Cubs amid a charged atmosphere in Chicago.
"That's part of being a professional," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "That's how it works. It's a different atmosphere, but it's still a competition. There's certainly a different atmosphere here than at Wrigley Field. But that didn't have anything to do with it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Doubled up: Milwaukee threatened in both the fifth and sixth, but a pair of double plays helped send the Pirates toward the victory -- including the play of the game in the fifth. The first batter following Brault's exit with no outs and two runners aboard, Chris Carter hit a grounder 95 mph at third baseman Jung Ho Kang. While falling to the ground, Kang threw to second to start a 5-4-3 twin-killing. The Brewers scored on the play to make it 5-3, but their rally was stunted.
"That certainly was the play of the game," Counsell said. "Middle of the order up, chance for a [big] inning right there, nobody out. That was definitely a big play."
Said Carter: "We ended up scoring a run, but that's two outs right there on one pitch, and [Hughes] ended up getting the next guy. That kind of changed the momentum."
Catching conundrum: Maldonado, the longtime backup catcher who has taken a more prominent role since the Brewers traded Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers on Aug. 1, cut Milwaukee's deficit to 3-2 with a solo homer in the fourth. Maldonado has eight home runs this season, matching his career high from 2012, half of which have come since the Lucroy trade. Looking ahead to 2017, the Brewers have three other catchers on the 40-man roster including Andrew Susac, acquired in a trade with the Giants, and Josmil Pinto, who joined the team Tuesday after the other catcher, Manny Piña, briefly left the team for the birth of a child.
'Cutch' him if you can: Three batters into the game, the Pirates had a 2-0 lead against Brewers starter Matt Garza. Adam Frazier led off the game with a single, Bell followed with a walk and McCutchen brought them both home with a double down the left-field line. Despite having a down season by his standards, McCutchen has looked like his normal self against Brewers pitching. The Pirates center fielder is batting .296 (21-for-71) with four homers and an .858 OPS against the Crew.
"He's a good player, yeah, he's going to have some good games," Counsell said. "He's Andrew McCutchen. I know he's not in contention for the MVP this year, which is rare. But he's a good player."
• Cutch retreats to dugout after dodging foul ball
Lucky bounce: The Brewers pulled to within 2-1 in the third inning when Carter scored from first base on Domingo Santana's two-out double. It appeared that Carter would be out by a wide margin, but right fielder Gregory Polanco's one-hop throw got past catcher Francisco Cervelli, allowing Carter to score. It was the seventh time this season that Carter was at first base when a double was hit, and the first time he scored.
"Too many two-out hits. Too many two-strike hits." -- Brault, who retired the first two batters in each of the first four innings but still allowed eight baserunners
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Miller Park has long been a house of horrors for the Pirates, but they have recently reversed that trend. It's the first time Pittsburgh has won five in a row at Miller Park since winning six consecutive games in 2002.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Counsell lost his challenge in the sixth, when he asked the umpires to take a second look at a force play at second base. Counsell's contention was that Pirates second baseman Sean Rodríguez took his foot off the bag while Hernán Pérez slid in, but after a brief review, the call stood. Perez was out.
Pirates: Another rookie will get the start for Pittsburgh on Wednesday night as right-hander Chad Kuhl takes his 4-3 record and 3.97 ERA to the bump. First pitch is 8:10 ET.
Brewers:Jimmy Nelson gets a favorable matchup when he faces the Pirates on Wednesday (7:10 CT). He's 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in nine career starts against the Bucs, including a 4.80 ERA this season in three starts -- a mark skewed high by a 3 2/3-inning outing Aug. 27 in which Nelson surrendered five earned runs.
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