ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates hit three home runs and got a strong performance from their pitching staff, but all anybody could talk about after their 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night at Angel Stadium were two defensive plays.
Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez homered, Francisco Liriano pitched 6 2/3 solid innings and relievers Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson closed it out, helping lift the Pirates to their third win in a row and fourth in six games on their trip to Cincinnati and Anaheim. Pittsburgh moved within two games of first-place St. Louis in the National League Central.
But it was the defensive plays made early in the game, first by Sanchez at first base and then by left fielder Sterling Marte that set the tone for the night.
Sanchez made a diving stop of a rocket hit by Mike Trout in the third inning, thwarting a potential rally. Even bigger was Marte's play in the fourth. The Angels had runners on first and second with one out when Erick Aybar singled to left field. Howie Kendrick was waved home by third-base coach Dino Ebel, but Marte threw a perfect one-hop strike to Russell Martin to nail Kendrick at the plate.
Instead of having the bases loaded and one out, the Angels had runners on first and second with two out, and Liriano worked his way out of the inning.
"I knew (Kendrick) was out right when they sent him home," McCutchen said. "Because I know (Marte) has a cannon. Right when that ball was coming to him, and I see (Ebel) waving him in, I was like, 'he's out.' He's not a typical left fielder; he has the arm of a right fielder. When he threw that, I know he was toast."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle appreciated the plays as well.
"Those two defensive plays were as big as anything we did tonight," Hurdle said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia defended Ebel's decision to send Kendrick.
"We're going to stay aggressive," Scioscia said. "Dino had a good read on it, but Marte came up and just threw a laser home. We knew he had a good arm, and he showed it off on that play. But it was going to take that type of throw to get Howie, and he put it right on the money."
Liriano (6-3) held the Angels scoreless through six innings, then gave up an RBI single to Trout with two outs in the seventh. He allowed the one run with seven hits and three walks while striking out six.
Angels starter Jerome Williams (5-3), taking the place of injured Jason Vargas in the rotation, hadn't started a game in 10 days and didn't appear sharp. He gave up five runs (four earned) and eight hits in six innings, including the home runs to Alvarez and McCutchen.
"See the ball, hit the ball, that's about it," McCutchen said of the Pirates' approach against Williams. "Never faced him, never faced anybody here. It's all about being prepared to hit because we've never faced him, so you have to simplify it."
The Pirates had 10 hits in all, including two each from Alvarez, Sanchez, Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker. Alvarez now has 18 home runs and has hit in seven consecutive games.
Alberto Callaspo and J.B. Shuck had two hits apiece for the Angels, who never mounted much of an offensive threat in the game.
Just like he did one night earlier, Alvarez led off the second inning with a home run. Also like Friday, the Pirates added two more runs in the inning for a 3-0 lead. Mercer had an RBI single and Martin walked with the bases loaded to force in a run.
The Pirates increased their lead to 4-0 in the fourth when Walker doubled and scored on a single by Travis Snider. In the fifth, McCutchen hit his eight homer of the year for a 5-0 Pirates lead.
NOTES: Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole made 88 pitches in 6 1/3 innings of his start Friday against the Angels. Seven of them were clocked at 100 mph and another -- to Callaspo in the third inning -- reached 101 mph. Most of the 100 mph pitchers came early in the game, but he did hit 100 on a pitch to Trout in the sixth inning. ... Angels CF Peter Bourjos was moved to the leadoff spot against the Pirates for the 18th game this season. In his first 17 games batting leadoff, Bourjos hit .328 (22 for 67), compared with .345 (19 for 55) hitting in the seventh, eighth and ninth spots. ... Angels RHP Ernesto Frieri has retired 22 batters in a row, including 12 by strikeout, covering eight innings. He is 17 of 18 in save opportunities, the only blown save coming April 29, when he gave up a ninth-inning run to Oakland that tied the score in a game the A's eventually won in 19 innings. ... McCutchen went into the game hitting .458 (33 for 72) with four homers and 18 RBIs in his last 18 interleague games. Against teams from the American League West, McCutchen was hitting .545 (12 for 22).