PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Florida Marlins overcame a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh late last season to go on and win the World Series. Bouncing back from a similar sweep that dropped them below .500 for the first time in more than a year could be tough, too.
Pinch-hitter Bobby Hill came through with a go-ahead homer leading off the eighth inning and the Pirates won their 10th in a row at home, a 4-2 victory Sunday.
The home winning streak is Pittsburgh’s longest since a 24-game run at Three Rivers Stadium that lasted for six weeks late in the 1978 season.
Hill hit reliever Billy Koch’s first pitch of the inning over the right-field stands for his second homer, both as a pinch-hitter. Hill’s shot came a day after the Pirates kept their home streak going by rallying for three runs in the eighth and a 4-2 victory.
Hill is only 2-for-10 as a pinch-hitter but has six RBIs. He credits former Cubs teammate Lenny Harris, who had a pinch-hit double Sunday for Florida, with helping him develop an approach to pinch-hitting.
“I’ve talked to him a lot about it and it’s not easy to do,” Hill said. “You try to get a pitch you can handle and put a good swing on it.”
Koch was angry at allowing the 5-foot-9 infielder to hit a drive that Hill called, “By far, the hardest ball I’ve hit all year.”
“Giving up a home run to him? Nothing against him, but he’s not a home-run hitter. What’s that, his second homer of the year?” Koch said. “To give up a homer to a slap hitter in a tie ballgame is not good.”
Especially not now. The Marlins dropped their 10th in 14 games and fell below .500 (45-46) for the first time since they were 41-42 on June 29 last year.
“Everybody in this room is trying; teams are going to go through things like this,” Koch said. “Guys are working hard. It will come together, hopefully sooner than later.”
Pittsburgh added another run against Koch (0-2) when Jason Kendall doubled, stole third and scored on Jack Wilson’s single. The Pirates won the season series from the Marlins 5-1 and have won eight of nine against them at home.
“I’m glad to get out of Pittsburgh,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon. “We haven’t won in three years here.”
Salomon Torres (6-3) yielded Mike Lowell’s tying homer in the seventh but got the win by pitching two innings. Jose Mesa finished up in the ninth for his third save of the series and 25th in 26 chances.
Neither starting pitcher, Florida’s Brad Penny nor Pittsburgh’s Oliver Perez, came back following a 74-minute rain delay. Penny gave up six hits and one run in five innings, and Perez made another strong start, allowing only one other hit in six innings besides rookie Josh Willingham’s first career homer. Perez lowered his ERA to 3.14.
“Something we haven’t been doing lately is scoring a lot of runs, and that was big hit for us—and for me,” Willingham said.
Mike Lowell tied it in the seventh with a drive into the left-center seats for his 21st of the season and 129th with Florida, tying Derrek Lee’s franchise record. But the Marlins scored only six runs in the series and their 381 runs in 91 games are the second fewest in the NL.
Florida had a chance to go ahead an inning later when Harris ended an 0-for-17 skid with his leadoff double, but he was stranded when Torres got the next three hitters.
Pittsburgh swept its third consecutive three-game series at home and won its 15th in 19 home games overall. … Despite the streak, the Pirates remain under .500 (21-22) at home. … Willingham also made his first major league start at catcher. … The rain delay included a lightning flash that rattled the glass in the PPG Building across the Allegheny River from PNC Park. … Willingham’s homer was the first off Pirates pitching in 45 innings. … Torres is expected to begin a three-game suspension Monday for throwing at Oakland’s Damian Miller last month.