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Harrison's heroics give Bucs walk-off win in opener

Pinch-hit homer picks up Locke after starter allows three early runs

PITTSBURGH -- Josh Harrison is like his Pittsburgh Pirates. Everyone keeps waiting for both to just go away.

It's not gonna happen.

Harrison, who has ridden the Indianapolis-to-Pittsburgh shuttle all season, led off the bottom of the ninth with his first career pinch-hit homer, giving the Bucs a 4-3 victory over the Miami Marlins in front of 27,980 in PNC Park.

"It felt amazing. Definitely a great feeling," Harrison said of his flight around the bases. "It's something everybody thinks about … getting a walk-off hit."

Harrison picked on lefty reliever Mike Dunn's 1-and-1 pitch and lined it into the right-center bleachers for the Pirates' third consecutive win and to lift them to a season-high 24 games over .500 (68-44).

"I faced him in Miami," Harrison said of the southpaw, "so I had a pretty good idea of what he throws. I wanted to be aggressive, but only within the zone. I got a good pitch to hit, and put a good swing on it."

"Mistake-pitch," said Dunn, whose world quickly turned after he had bailed Miami out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the eighth. "Belt-high on the outside corner. I didn't think it was going to be high enough [for a homer]. But it carried."

"I knew it had a chance," said Harrison, who ran hard out of the box. "I was watching [right fielder Giancarlo] Stanton's reaction. I knew he wasn't going to catch it, but when I saw him pull up and the ball didn't kick back, I knew it was gone."

As was the memory of another flat Jeff Locke start, which turned into another pleasant deja-vu experience. On Wednesday, he had given the Cardinals four runs in four innings, then sat back and watched the Pirates score in their last at-bat for a 5-4 victory. Tuesday night, he weathered three early runs, departed in the sixth, and waited for the same thing to happen.

"I'll continue to say it: I just have all the trust in the world that these guys will play nine hard innings every night," Locke said. "It's inevitable that you aren't going to win every single game, but I've never been around a group of guys who play so hard the whole nine."

Bryan Morris, the third reliever involved in the Pittsburgh bullpen's typical rescue of a struggling starter, pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth victory of the season.

Morris was preceded by Tony Watson, who had been preceded by Vin Mazzaro and McCutchen. Not formally, of course, but considering his assist to the bullpen in the seventh inning, McCutchen should have been named at least an honorary shark.

With two men on and one out, Adeiny Hechavarria ripped a Mazzaro pitch to a little left of center. McCutchen flashed over and went into a headlong dive to catch the ball perhaps three inches off the grass, keeping the game knotted at 3.

"I know he hit it off the end of the bat -- probably not as good as he wanted -- so I got myself in the best position to catch it," McCutchen said. "I feel like I made it look fairly easy."

Locke and Miami's Henderson Alvarez had tied it up for their respective bullpens, both done for the night as a 3-3 tie entered the eighth.

To erase Locke's early 3-0 deficit, the Pirates had to come up with an unlikely rush on Henderson Alvarez, and they got it after Starling Marte beat out a potential inning-ending double play in the third by a half-step. The Bucs turned that hustle into three runs and a tie within six pitches. Neil Walker singled and, along with Marte, scored on McCutchen's double. Pedro Alvarez knotted it at 3 with a triple to right-center.

Affirmative on that, a triple: The fourth of Pedro Alvarez's 1,479 at-bat career, the first since last Sept. 3.

"That three-run inning was big for us," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, "Andrew and Pedro answering to get us back in the game after we'd fallen behind."

Locke could curse his second-inning fate, with three worm-burning hits, two of which didn't leave the infield, setting up a run scored on Henderson Alvarez's sacrifice fly.

But he had no such grouse coming in a line-drive-infested third inning he was actually fortunate to escape with only two more runs on his ledger. The runs had already scored on RBI singles by Logan Morrison and Donovan Solano, and the Marlins still had two runners on with none out when Locke, responding to a mound visit by pitching coach Ray Searage, put his foot down and got three outs without another ball being hit past the mound.

"I thought there was a marked difference after Ray's mound visit," said Hurdle, who thinks that might have marked a turnaround from Locke's short-term slump. "We came away from this with a couple things we can give him, one physical and one mental, to help him move forward."

Locke kept the foot down long enough to keep the Marlins down for the rest of his 5 2/3-innings stint. He allowed nine hits and three runs, with three walks and four strikeouts.

Of possible concern, the young lefty has now given up eight, 10 and nine hits in his last three starts -- after not allowing more than four in 13 of the previous 18.

Henderson Alvarez was only slightly more vulnerable that he had been in his introduction to the Pirates, when he blanked them on two hits for six innings. He went six in Miami. This time, in seven, he allowed six hits and three runs, striking out six without a walk.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Harrison, Jeff Locke