PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates’ remarkable rallies in the ninth and 11th innings on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park were a perfect representation of the resilience they’ve shown throughout this season, the reason they still believe they can compete despite everything that’s gone wrong so far this season.
They were down three in the ninth against a closer who hadn’t blown a save all season, but they battled back to tie the game. They were down three again in the 11th, three outs away from an ugly loss, then all of a sudden Kevin Newman was at the plate taking ball four to cap the Bucs’ 11-10 win over the Padres with a walk-off walk.
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"That’s one of the best wins that I’ve watched in nine years here, for sure,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Even after staging a pair of wild, dramatic comebacks, the Pirates are still tied for last place in the National League Central. But they’re only 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cubs, and they can see brighter days ahead. With their pitching getting healthy enough to support a strong lineup, they’ve won four in a row and six of their past eight games after dropping seven straight.
“This was a big sweep for us. During that seven-game losing streak, it kind of felt like we were really far off. We’re really not that far off in the division,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “We’re still within striking distance, and all the guys know that.”
Where does that leave the Pirates with a little more than a month remaining before the Trade Deadline? Well, it leaves them waiting. Some might be in a hurry to declare them sellers, but the front office is going to give the team a chance to declare itself after fighting to stay afloat for this long.
“To still be within a good two-week run of a division lead and some very good teams ahead of us, it speaks to the resilience and it speaks to what could come together,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Now, we have to make it come together. We have a stretch of really interesting games going into the All-Star break.
“Now would be a good time to play really well and to close the gap and put us in a good spot.”
In the end, the Pirates played well enough on Sunday.
They lost a pair of leads in a sloppy game that ended nearly five hours after Steven Brault’s first pitch, but they overcame a three-run deficit against Padres closer Kirby Yates -- who was 26-for-26 in save opportunities -- in the ninth.
Elias Diaz reached on an error by Manny Machado, Adam Frazier hit a double to right-center, Newman tapped an infield single, and Bryan Reynolds lined an RBI single to center. Starling Marte dropped a sacrifice bunt, and Melky Cabrera’s groundout ultimately brought home the tying run.
“We’re trying to find ways to get some traction. Today was a day that could have got by us,” Hurdle said. “We played a part in it a couple different times, and we were able to fight through it. That collective effort in the box has been real. People have been unselfish, trying to set things up and help each other.”
Francisco Liriano was one pitch away from escaping a bases-loaded jam in the 11th, but Manuel Margot dropped a perfectly placed bunt single before Austin Hedges put San Diego up by three with a single to right.
For whatever reason, Pittsburgh never lost hope.
“When we came back in and we were down three again,” Newman said, “it was like, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Reynolds walked, Bell singled to right and Cabrera pulled an RBI double to right. Up came pinch-hitter Stallings, the last man off the bench, who lined the game-tying single to left field. Jose Osuna singled and Diaz walked, then Newman took a high, full-count slider from Matt Wisler to draw the Bucs’ first walk-off walk since June 19, 2014.
“Out of the hand, I thought it was up,” Newman said. “It was a big situation, but at the end of the day, it’s another pitch. Just kind of trusted my eyes.”
It was an uplifting end to an encouraging homestand. The Pirates overcame a six-run deficit to beat the Tigers 8-7 on Wednesday, and Trevor Williams called the victory a turning point. They then promptly swept the Padres. They will need more than a four-game winning streak to climb back into the race, however.
Their upcoming road trip will take them to Houston and Milwaukee. July is full of games against the teams they’re trailing in the NL Central: the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals and, in the days leading up to July 31, the Reds.
“I think it’s a good time to get into a groove and feel like we’re in a good spot going into Houston and Milwaukee,” Brault said. “It’s going to be a tough road trip. It’s going to be fun. I think we all feel the same way, that we like where we’re at.”
Last year, the Pirates were in a nearly identical place after 76 games. They had the same record, 36-40, and things actually got worse before they briefly got better. Pittsburgh fell to 40-48 on July 7 then reeled off 16 wins in the next 20 games. That surge led to the Bucs’ acquisitions of Keone Kela and Chris Archer at the high cost of young players including Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz and Taylor Hearn.
Huntington said the Pirates won’t overreact to a good 10-game stretch, but a similar run might inspire the front office to add to this roster rather than sell off pending free agents like Cabrera, Liriano, Jordan Lyles and Corey Dickerson.
Whatever happens, there’s no doubt these Pirates are going to keep fighting.
“We love to win. We love to play the game hard,” Diaz said. “That’s why we fight to out 27 -- or more.”
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.