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Bullpen steps up after rare Melancon hiccup

Caminero, Blanton each toss three scoreless frames in Bucs' 15-inning win

PITTSBURGH -- When Francisco Liriano cruised through the seventh inning Tuesday night at PNC Park, it looked like the Pirates' hardworking relief corps might finally enjoy a relatively uneventful night. Not quite. "Not in the bullpen," Joe Blanton said.

Blanton and Arquimedes Caminero wound up working three scoreless innings apiece, holding off the D-backs long enough for Pedro Florimon to send the Pirates to a 9-8 walk-off victory in the 15th inning.

"Both of them stepped up big again," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates have rarely seen the back end of their bullpen falter, especially not lately. Yet they watched a five-run lead heading into the eighth inning evaporate quickly, maintaining a temporary 8-6 edge to start the ninth.

A ground ball slipped past Jung Ho Kang at third base. With two on and two outs, Paul Goldschmidt scorched a hard grounder that bounced off Sean Rodriguez and into the right-field corner.

Video: [email protected]: D-backs score two on error to tie game

Just like that, two runs had scored, the game was tied and closer Mark Melancon's first blown save in nearly four months was the result of two errors by typically solid defenders. That ended Melancon's streak of 35 straight successful save opportunities.

So the Pirates turned to Caminero, who has returned to form this month following a disappointing July. He put together three zeros in his first three-inning appearance of the season.

"Caminero has worked himself back to a very consistent, solid place," Hurdle said.

The Bucs then handed the game over to Blanton, who has been everything they hoped for out of the bullpen since coming aboard before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

In three appearances over the last four games, Blanton has fired 7 1/3 innings without allowing a run. As Hurdle pointed out, Blanton would be five outs short of a shutout in his previous life as a starting pitcher.

"Which is remarkable, in and of itself. He's got a lot of grit," Hurdle said. "We've got a lot of guys with a lot of grit, a lot of want-to."

Blanton ended up earning the win following his three shutout innings, extending an impressive streak for Pittsburgh's relievers. They have now won 17 straight decisions, the longest streak of its kind since the Pirates' bullpen had 22 straight winning decisions in 1909.

Asked Monday what has enabled his bullpen to put together that kind of run, Hurdle pointed to the group's ability to pick each other up. It showed again as Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning at PNC Park.

"Obviously, you never want to give up a lead. It happens to every club, no matter how good the guys are at the back," Blanton said. "I think it shows a lot from all 25 guys to be able to continue playing and eventually be able to pull one out."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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