MILWAUKEE - Charlie Morton posted his sixth straight strong start, and Jose Tabata and Neil Walker supplied all the offense as the Pittsburgh Pirates reclaimed sole possession of first place in the National League Central with a 5-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers Monday at Miller Park.
Coupled with the St. Louis Cardinals' 7-2 loss at Cincinnati, the Pirates (80-57) took a one-game lead.
Morton (7-3) allowed seven hits and two runs -- only one earned -- as the Pirates won their third straight game at Miller Park, a stadium that haunted them once for 22 consecutive losses between 2007 and 2010. Before winning the final two games of a series back in May, the Pirates had gone 8-47 in their previous 55 games at Miller Park.
Brewers starter Tyler Thornburg (1-1) allowed just two runs and six hits in six innings, but was saddled with the loss. Thornburg has made four starts with a 1.13 ERA (24 innings, three earned runs) as he tries to put himself into the Brewers' 2014 plans.
No. 8 hitter Clint Barmes and leadoff hitter Jose Tabata were thorns in Thornburg's side on Monday. Barmes led off the third and fifth innings with hits and was plated both times by singles by Tabata.
That was enough offense because Morton posted his sixth straight start allowing no more than two earned runs. Even more impressive, Morton got stronger as he went along, striking out the side in the sixth inning.
Morton even helped his own cause by leading off the seventh inning with a single. Two batters later, Walker's three-run homer gave the Pirates a 5-1 lead.
Former Pirate Tom Gorzelanny relieved Thornburg to start the seventh and surrendered the single to Morton. Gorzelanny, a lefty, departed with tightness in his pitching shoulder and was replaced by Alfredo Figaro. Tabata singled sharply to center, and Walker followed with his 10th homer of the season, a no-doubt blast to right-center field.
The Brewers tallied an unearned run in the seventh. Norichika Aoki reached on a two-out bunt single. Jean Segura followed with a single to left, and both runners moved up two bases when Tabata's soft throw to third was missed by Pedro Alvarez and rolled into the Pittsburgh dugout. Morton averted further damage by striking out Jonathan Lucroy.
Tony Watson pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Mark Melancon pitched around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.
The Brewers got on the board first with a two-out rally in the second inning. Juan Francisco dropped a liner just inside the line in the left-field corner for a double. With two outs and the pitcher on deck, the Pirates elected to pitch to Logan Schafer, who hit a hard grounder up the middle. Second baseman Walker got a glove on it with a diving effort, but the ball trickled into short center, and Francisco scored without a throw.
Pittsburgh answered immediately in the third. Barmes, hitting just .217 entering the game, grounded a hard single up the middle, advanced to second on Morton's sacrifice bunt and scored on Tabata's line single to left.
The Brewers missed on a good scoring chance in the third. Aoki led off with a single to the gap in right-center and moved to second when right-fielder Marlon Byrd bobbled the ball. Aoki moved to third as Segura was retired on a grounder to short on a close play at first. Lucroy grounded to third, and the Pirates caught Aoki in a rundown. Alvarez tagged Aoki out and turned and fired a strike to second to nail Lucroy for a double play.
The Pirates took the lead in the fifth. Barmes led off with a double just inside the third-base line, and Morton sacrificed him to third. Tabata followed with his second RBI single of the day, a liner through the hole between third and short against a drawn-in infield.
NOTES: Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez was given the day off Monday with what Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said was an assortment of maladies. Gomez recently missed six games with a knee strain but was struggling even before that. He's batting just .236 (50-for-212) since June 12, dropping his batting average from .326 to .286. ... Monday's game was the opener of a pivotal nine-game road trip over the next 10 days for the Pirates, who entered the game tied with St. Louis for the NL Central lead. The Pirates also play three games at St. Louis and then finish interleague play for the season with three games in Texas against the Rangers. The trip includes an off-day in St. Louis Thursday.