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Free-swinging Alvarez making hits count

Batting just .205 vs. Cardinals, Pirates slugger continues to produce runs

ST. LOUIS -- Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez and pitcher Gerrit Cole conducted a news conference together Friday afternoon. The stats say they should be together as often as possible.

Alvarez hit a two-run homer, doubled and scored another run to help pace the Pirates' 7-1 victory over the Cardinals to even their National League Division Series after two games. Cole pitched well, holding the Cards to one run and two hits in six innings. Counting Friday, seven of Alvarez's home runs and 20 of his RBIs have come with Cole on the mound.

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"I must really like him or something, I don't know," Alvarez deadpanned, completing his point by softly giving Cole a fist bump. "No, it's just a coincidence."

Whether Alvarez likes Cole more than any other Pittsburgh pitcher is less important than the malice with which the third baseman swings at opponents' pitches. Quite often, its sound and fury signify an empty at-bat, but the results are truly special when he connects. Alvarez went 2-for-4 Friday -- much better than his usual success rate against St. Louis -- but he continued a pattern of doing damage with his hits.

Alvarez homered off Adam Wainwright for the Pirates' only run in Thursday's 9-1 loss in Game 1. On Friday, he drilled a Lance Lynn fastball to left-center that bounced on the warning track and over the wall for a double, and he scored on Cole's single. On Alvarez's next at-bat, in the third, he put Lynn's 93-mph, 0-1 fastball over the wall and onto the terrace in dead center for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead.

"He's a good hitter -- led the National League in home runs," Lynn said. "The way the ball was carrying today, he put two balls in the air that carried well for him, and it worked out well."

Counting the regular season, Alvarez is hitting a pedestrian-looking .205 in 83 at-bats against Cardinals pitching. But he has three homers and 15 RBIs in those games, and his ability to shake off empty at-bats and drive balls occasionally is among the reasons the Bucs have won 11 of the 21 meetings with the Redbirds.

"Nothing better than Pedro getting his bat running hot right away," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's not a park he can't hit it out of. He can drive it from line to line. He misses balls and they [still] carry over the fence.

"He didn't catch that double [squarely] today and [still] one-bounced it out. Then he catches it a little firmer and he rides it up on the hill [for a homer]. He's turned into a Major league run producer and a threat every time he walks up there."

Alvarez, who finished the regular season hitting .233 and with NL highs in home runs (36) and strikeouts (186), said he enjoys the ups and downs of facing the Cards' vaunted pitchers.

"They demand you bring your A-game every single time -- every single pitch, full concentration," Alvarez said. "And just try to capitalize on hitting a mistake, because they don't make very many mistakes. I'm trying to go up there every single pitch and compete, because, again, that's what they demand out of you because of how tough they are."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Pedro Alvarez