SAN FRANCISCO -- After a surprisingly smooth trip to Coors Field, the Pirates rolled past the Giants in a 10-5 victory on Thursday night at AT&T Park. It was the kind of complete effort that encapsulates their recent run into the National League Wild Card race.
Right-hander Ivan Nova allowed only three hits and two walks over six innings. The bullpen didn't allow an earned run. Adam Frazier led the offensive attack from atop the lineup, and the middle of the order delivered three home runs. Since July 7, the Pirates have posted the NL's best record (20-9) and lowest staff ERA (3.05).
"It starts with pitching," said third baseman David Freese, who put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the seventh inning. "Pitching makes the game go smoothly and makes the year go smoothly. It gives you a little flow. If we can get those timely hits and play some D, it'll work out. Our arms are doing great, and we're pumped about that."
The Pirates' rotation handled the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field remarkably well earlier this week, allowing only seven runs in a series victory. Nova fared just as well in San Francisco's more spacious ballpark, which proved to be no problem for Pittsburgh's lineup.
Elias Diaz and Josh Bell powered the Pirates to an early lead, hitting back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches from Giants left-hander Andrew Suarez in the second inning. Diaz fouled off four pitches and took two balls from Suarez before launching a 77.5-mph curveball into the left-field seats for his eighth home run of the season.
Bell then jumped on a first-pitch cutter from Suarez and crushed it 396 feet to left field with an exit velocity of 104.8 mph, according to Statcast™. It was Bell's seventh homer of the season and his first as a right-handed hitter.
"I haven't pulled a ball like that virtually all year," Bell said. "It's definitely a good sign I'm heading in the right direction."
That was enough for Nova, who moved his two-seam fastball around the strike zone and leaned on his curveball as he held the Giants hitless for four innings. Austin Slater led off the fifth with a single and scored on a triple by former Pirate Alen Hanson. Steven Duggar drove in Hanson with a one-out single to center, but Nova escaped the inning by inducing groundouts from ex-Pirates Gorkys Hernandez and Andrew McCutchen.
With Richard Rodriguez warming up in the bullpen, Nova returned to pitch the sixth and worked around a two-out walk to complete his second quality start since the beginning of July.
"The sixth inning, when we needed a shutdown inning again, he came through and showed up," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Through four games of this road trip, Pittsburgh's starters have allowed seven earned runs in 27 innings. What's been their secret?
"We've got good starting pitching. Believe it or not, we do," Nova said. "We have some good guys capable of pitching the way that they've been pitching. You just want to follow their game."
The Pirates then pounced on the Giants' bullpen, capitalizing on a pair of errors to score five runs in the seventh inning and adding two more in the eighth as they pulled within four games of the second NL Wild Card spot.
"It seems like any inning, we can put the game out of reach," Bell said. "It's one of those things where you're just waiting for that spark."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Two errors, five runs: The Pirates took advantage of the Giants' mistakes behind former Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon and padded their lead in the seventh. Josh Harrison reached on an error by second baseman Joe Panik, and Jordy Mercer took second base on third baseman Evan Longoria's throwing error.
Frazier extended his hot streak with an RBI single to left; after another three-hit night, Frazier is batting .463 since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on July 25. Then Gregory Polanco hit a bloop double to left that brought home Frazier, and Freese punctuated the rally with a three-run homer to left-center field, his ninth of the season and the 100th of his career.
"Getting this one tonight is huge," Freese said. "Always tough conditions, but we battled through it and got a W."
Right-hander Casey Sadler gave up three unearned runs on three hits in the ninth inning while making his first Major League appearance since April 12, 2015. It had been 1,215 days since Sadler's last big league outing, a spot start in Milwaukee in place of left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Sadler spent the rest of 2015 in Triple-A before undergoing Tommy John surgery, sitting out all of '16, working his way back through the Minors in '17 and reporting to Triple-A to start this season.
"We appreciate Casey," Hurdle said. "This has got to be a very special evening for him -- the fight, the perseverance, the resiliency to stay in the hunt then get back and contribute in a Major League game."
HE SAID IT
"That's a good feeling, I won't lie. You get close to 100, you start thinking about guys that hit 500. That's just nuts to think about the guys that can hit 500 homers. For a guy that pounds the ball into the ground, not too bad." -- Freese, on hitting his 100th career homer
Rookie right-hander Clay Holmes will join the Pirates' rotation on Friday night at AT&T Park to face the Giants at 10:15 p.m. ET. This will be Holmes' third Major League start and his first since July 14, when he threw six scoreless innings against the Brewers. Lefty Derek Holland will start for San Francisco.