PITTSBURGH -- When Clint Hurdle flashed the steal sign with slow-footed Gaby Sanchez on first base in the 14th inning, it didn't seem like the Pittsburgh Pirates manager's finest decision.
"I figured, 'What if he gets thrown out? It's not a man left on base, and we had enough of those,'" Hurdle reasoned.
Like everything Hurdle and the Pirates seem to do these days, it turned out OK. Sanchez stole the 10th base of his six-year career, then scored the winning run on pinch hitter Russell Martin's single to rally Pittsburgh to a 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
The Pirates won their eighth straight game and improved their record to 51-30, the best in the major leagues at the midway point of the season. They also swept a three-game series from Milwaukee for the first time since 2009.
Sanchez led off the 14th with an infield single off Francisco Rodriguez (1-1) and promptly stole second. After Michael McKenry flied out and Jordy Mercer walked, Martin grounded a single up the middle, and Sanchez chugged home with the winning run.
"I knew on the stolen base all I had to do was just get a good jump and go to second," Sanchez said. "Russ did a good job. He hit it up the middle and I was able to truck it around home."
Sanchez couldn't wait to get to home plate, and not just because he was the winning run. The game lasted four hours and 12 minutes and was delayed by rain for 2:20 in the bottom of the second inning.
"I'm coming around third thinking I'm tired and it's been a long day," Sanchez said.
However, it was another winning day in large part to five Pirates relievers combining to pitch 12 scoreless innings.
Vin Mazzaro took over for starter Charlie Morton after the rain delay and pitched five perfect innings, needing just 44 pitches to get 15 outs. Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon followed with one inning apiece, and Tony Watson (2-0) pitched three perfect innings to end it.
Left-handed starter Jeff Locke was warming up in the 14th inning but was not used.
Hurdle said Locke would not make his scheduled start Tuesday night against Philadelphia in order to get some extra rest. The Pirates did not immediately name a replacement.
"Mazzaro was great for five innings, and then everybody came in after him and did great," Watson said. "So I was just trying to keep Jeff Locke out of the game."
Milwaukee's Tyler Thornburg was also outstanding in long relief, taking over for starter Kyle Lohse and allowing two hits over five scoreless innings. Amazingly, Thornburg has not allowed a run in nine major league relief innings this season but has gone 0-9 with a 5.79 ERA in 15 starts with Triple-A Nashville.
"This game is hard to figure out," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He has the stuff -- good, live fastball, a real good curve, a real good changeup. I don't why it's been going bad for him down there (in Nashville), but he's come up here and done a real nice job.
"He gave us what we needed. He gave us innings and put up a bunch of zeros."
Milwaukee scored its lone run in the second inning on Logan Schafer's squeeze bunt.
Pittsburgh tied it in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Andrew McCutchen.
Martin Maldonado had three of the Brewers' four hits as they lost their fifth consecutive game. They have scored just 11 runs during the skid.
"That's baseball," Schafer said. Your winning streaks and your losing streaks are never one-for-one. You tend to have five, six, seven in a row one way then five, six, seven in a row the other way. It's tough right now. We're not getting a whole lot of breaks, but things will turn. They always do in this game."
Things are certainly turning for the Pirates, who have endured 20 consecutive losing seasons, a record for North American major professional team sports.
"It's fun," Martin said. "Obviously winning is fun, but just being on a team with a bunch of guys who play with their hearts out and enjoy the game is definitely a pleasure."
NOTES: Pittsburgh LHP Wandy Rodriguez is scheduled to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection Monday in an attempt to speed up the healing in his strained left forearm. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since June 6 and felt pain June 28 during a throwing session. ... Milwaukee LF Ryan Braun, who has been out since June 10 with a bruised left thumb, does not have a timetable for when he will be able to return but admitted it would almost certainly be sometime after the All-Star break. ... Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-6, ending his career-best 12-game hitting streak. ... Brewers RHP John Axford made his 22nd consecutive scoreless relief appearance by striking out Barmes in the seventh, the only batter he faced. ... The Pirates are 21-11 in day games, best in the majors. ... The Brewers open a four-game series at Washington on Monday with RHP Yovani Gallardo (6-7, 4.20) facing Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (11-3, 2.28) ... The Pirates are off Monday before opening a three-game home series with the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night.