Pirates set season scoring high, beat Braves 9-3

The Associated Press
Pirates set season scoring high, beat Braves 9-3
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Pittsburgh Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (24) celebrates with Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach Nick Leyva (16) after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Monday, April 30, 2012 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) The Pittsburgh Pirates went nearly a month before scoring more than five runs in a game. When they finally broke through, they just kept going.

Pedro Alvarez and Yamaico Navarro each hit two-run homers, and the Pirates enjoyed a long-awaited offensive breakthrough as they beat the Atlanta Braves 9-3 on Monday night.

''That was huge,'' said Neil Walker, who had three hits. ''It was good to get some runs early today, something we haven't been able to do.''

Early? The Pirates hadn't been able to score many runs at any stage of games.

The Pirates, last in the major leagues with 58 runs in 22 games, almost doubled their previous scoring high.

The wait of 22 games to score more than five runs is the longest streak since the 1972 Milwaukee Brewers went a major league-record 31 games into the season without surpassing five runs, according STATS LLC. The last National League team with a longer streak was the 1919 Boston Braves, who went an NL-record 23 games into the season without topping five runs.

Manager Clint Hurdle described his reaction as ''ecstatic.''

''We were able to fight back in a game, tie it up and then add on,'' Hurdle said.

James McDonald (1-1) set a career high with 10 strikeouts as he improved to 3-0 in six career appearances against the Braves. He gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning but recovered to allow only one run in the next 6 2-3 innings.

The Braves settled for a split of the four-game set. They haven't lost a series since being swept by the Mets in three games to open the season.

McDonald gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks in 7 2-3 innings. The right-hander's previous career high of nine strikeouts also came at Atlanta, on July 25, 2011.

''Maybe I've had a little luck here,'' McDonald said.

The Braves said McDonald wasn't lucky.

''I always knew he had good stuff but today he was able to control it,'' said Michael Bourn, who had one hit.

''He was getting ahead with his fastball. He was throwing his curveball for strikes and for balls so it's hard to tell the difference, which one is which, Bourn added. ''He was on tonight, man. Give him credit.''

Alvarez gave Pittsburgh the lead in the fourth with his third homer in six days. He connected in both games of a doubleheader with Colorado on Wednesday. Alvarez hit only .191 with four homers in 74 games in 2011. His fifth homer came in his 18th game this season.

Navarro homered off Mike Minor (2-2) in the sixth.

Minor gave up a career-high seven runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out nine.

Navarro, who started in left field, was hitting only .077 (1 for 13) before he singled and scored in the fourth and hit his first NL homer in the sixth. He hit one homer for Boston last season.

Freeman pulled the first pitch he saw from McDonald about two rows over the right field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning. The liner drove in Martin Prado, who walked.

The Pirates answered with two runs in the third and two in the fourth. Josh Harrison had a run-scoring single and Andrew McCutchen had a sacrifice fly to center field. Navarro singled and scored on Alvarez's home run in the fourth.

Eric Hinske had four hits for Atlanta, including a run-scoring single in the fourth.

Walker had a run-scoring single in the Pirates' three-run seventh. Jose Tabata walked and eventually scored from third on Brian McCann's passed ball on a pitch from Chad Durbin.

After the game, the Pirates announced right-hander Evan Meek had been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hurdle said he wasn't ready to announce a corresponding move. He said he wants Meek to get steady work as he tries to sharpen the location on his fastball.

''The biggest point is him going down and finishing his fastball down in the strike zone,'' Hurdle said. ''This isn't about velocity.''

NOTES: The Pirates had scored five runs in a game four times this season. ... Hinske filled in for LF Jason Heyward, who was held out with soreness around his right oblique muscle. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he did not believe the injury was serious and said Heyward might be available as a defensive substitute. ''He woke up this morning a little sore, and I did not want to mess with it,'' Gonzalez said. ... Justin Wilson, Jose Diaz and Doug Slaten combined for a no-hitter for the Pirates' Triple-A Indianapolis Indians on Sunday night. Wilson struck out nine in his 7 1-3 innings. ... The Braves open a three-game home series against Philadelphia on Tuesday night when Brandon Beachy faces Cole Hamels. The Pirates will continue their seven-game road trip when they open a three-game series in St. Louis. Charlie Morton will face the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright.