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Kingham, Bell's 4-for-4 lift Bucs to 3rd straight W

Santana, Crick give closer Vazquez a rest with doubleheader looming Saturday
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- When Pirates general manager Neal Huntington set up this make-or-break week for his club on Sunday, it was obvious the results would matter. They need to win a lot of games in a hurry. But Huntington also said the Bucs had to prove they could continue to win. The way they play matters, too.

It may just be a coincidence, but since then, the Pirates have put together their best stretch of baseball in two months. Pittsburgh played another complete game on Friday night and beat the Brewers, 7-3, at PNC Park. The Pirates have won five of their last six games, the first time they've won five of six since they were a season-high nine games above .500 on May 17.

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PITTSBURGH -- When Pirates general manager Neal Huntington set up this make-or-break week for his club on Sunday, it was obvious the results would matter. They need to win a lot of games in a hurry. But Huntington also said the Bucs had to prove they could continue to win. The way they play matters, too.

It may just be a coincidence, but since then, the Pirates have put together their best stretch of baseball in two months. Pittsburgh played another complete game on Friday night and beat the Brewers, 7-3, at PNC Park. The Pirates have won five of their last six games, the first time they've won five of six since they were a season-high nine games above .500 on May 17.

View Full Game Coverage

"I know we're playing well. I don't think it's because of the Trade Deadline," said Josh Bell, who went 4-for-4 with a double, triple and two RBIs. "I just think that we're maybe coming together right now and doing what we need to do to win."

That was the case on Friday night. Bell led the offensive attack, and rookie Nick Kingham delivered another solid start, allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings. With a doubleheader looming on Saturday, setup relievers Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick gave closer Felipe Vazquez the night off by recording four outs each.

Video: MIL@PIT: Crick retires Aguilar to escape jam in 8th

"Edgar made the pitches he needed to make, and Crick made the pitches he needed to make," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Really helped us out."

Kingham made his second straight quality start, and most of the damage against him came on solo home runs, including one hit by Milwaukee reliever Brandon Woodruff in the sixth, while Kingham was working with a sizable lead. The right-hander utilized his entire arsenal as he tied a career-high with nine strikeouts.

"It definitely helped pitching with the lead," Kingham said. "The biggest thing is just getting first-pitch strikes, especially with the lead. The defense is out there. They want to get back in the dugout as fast [as they] can."

Video: MIL@PIT: Kingham fans Thames to start the game

The top of the Pirates' lineup immediately got to Brewers starter Junior Guerra. Corey Dickerson led off the first inning with a double, advanced to third on Starling Marte's single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Gregory Polanco. Francisco Cervelli walked, and Colin Moran smacked an RBI single to center field. Bell then laced an RBI double to center field, giving the Bucs a three-run lead.

The bottom of the order rallied with two outs in the third. Moran and Bell each singled, but Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain misplayed Bell's hit, allowing Moran to score and Bell to reach third. After Josh Harrison walked, Jordy Mercer ripped an RBI double to left.

Video: MIL@PIT: Mercer rips an RBI double in the 3rd

Polanco tagged Guerra with another two-out run in the fourth, launching his 14th home run 393 feet to right-center field. Kingham gave up a pair of solo shots to Woodruff and Travis Shaw, cutting the Pirates' lead to three, but Santana stranded an inherited runner on first to end the seventh inning.

Santana got two more outs in the eighth, then Hurdle called on right-hander Crick to face All-Star slugger Jesus Aguilar. Crick retired Aguilar on three pitches, returned to pitch the ninth and worked around a pair of one-out singles to finish his second save of the season.

Video: MIL@PIT: Crick gets final out for 4-out save

"I think pressure's what you make it. You can put it on yourself, or you can go about your business the same way you do any other inning," Crick said. "Every inning I've been in this year is like nobody on, no pressure, let's not think about anything, throw strikes and get ahead of people."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trip-trip-triple: After launching 26 homers as a rookie last season, Bell entered the night with a .378 slugging percentage that ranked last among the 14 National League first baseman who qualified for the batting title. The switch-hitter wasn't necessarily slumping, but he was still searching for consistent power. He found it on Friday.

"It's just one of those things where you get your butt kicked so many times in this game, you've kind of got to take a step back and realize that sometimes it's you making it harder than it is," Bell said.

Bell said he's worked to "quiet" his hands and head at the plate. He started to see the benefits of his work on Thursday night, when he drew three walks. After that, he said, he knew the Brewers would challenge him with pitches in the strike zone. When they did, Bell hit them hard. His career-high-tying fourth hit was a 107.5-mph line-drive triple to right-center that brought home Moran and gave the Bucs a four-run lead in the eighth inning.

SOUND SMART
Polanco's 14 home runs before the All-Star break are the most by a Pirates right fielder since Bobby Bonilla in 1990, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Bonilla had 19 homers in the first half, with only 16 of them coming as a right fielder.

Video: MIL@PIT: Polanco belts a solo homer in the 4th

HE SAID IT
"I just said, '[Heck with] it, I'm going to go.' I get halfway there, and I see the throw coming into third, and I was like, 'Oh gosh, I don't know what's going to happen here.' Luckily, I guess [third baseman Travis] Shaw wasn't there in time or the throw wasn't on the bag. I was able to sneak in."--Bell, on slowing down before diving into third base on his triple

UP NEXT
The Pirates and Brewers will play a traditional doubleheader on Saturday at PNC Park, with Game 1 set to begin at 12:35 p.m. ET. Right-hander Ivan Nova (5-6, 4.50 ERA) will start the opener against Milwaukee righty Chase Anderson (6-6, 3.81), then rookie Clay Holmes (0-1, 7.11) will be recalled to start the second game against Brewers lefty Brent Suter (8-5, 4.53).

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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