Padres end positive trip with 10-1 loss to Pirates
The San Diego Padres still own PNC Park.
They just let the Pittsburgh Pirates borrow it for a day.
Neil Walker had four hits, including his 11th homer of the season, and drove in three runs to lead the Pirates to a 10-1 win over San Diego on Thursday as Pittsburgh salvaged the finale of a four-game series.
Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 34th homer for Pittsburgh. Jose Tabata added two hits and three RBIs as the Pirates moved a game in front of Cincinnati for the top wild-card spot in the NL.
There are no such postseason plans in San Diego, though manager Bud Black is encouraged after his team went 6-4 on a 10-day trip that included series victories in playoff-bound Atlanta and Pittsburgh. And despite the loss the Padres improved to 31-11 at PNC Park since it opened in 2001.
''We played well on this trip,'' Black said. ''It's all about how we pitched. ... Our guys know if we pitch well we've got a chance to win.''
It didn't happen on Thursday. Ian Kennedy (6-10) allowed six runs on eight hits in 3 2-3 innings as San Diego's four-game winning streak ended with a thud. Kennedy labored through three innings before imploding in the fourth, when Pittsburgh pushed across five runs behind homers from Alvarez and Walker.
''He just couldn't command any of his pitches in the fourth,'' Black said of Kennedy.
There were no such worries for Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole (9-7). The rookie right-hander struck out a career-high 12 while allowing one run and four hits in six innings. Mixing a fastball that tops out in the high 90s with a quickly improving breaking ball, Cole kept the Padres off balance.
''He was running up there to 97, 98, using both sides of the plate,'' San Diego's Nick Hundley said. '' I think as he continues to evolve as a pitcher.''
The win inched Pittsburgh closer to its first postseason berth in 21 years and gave the Pirates some momentum heading into the showdown with the Reds. It also took some of the sting out of a 3-2 loss on Wednesday night when closer Mark Melancon surrendered two runs in the ninth in his third blown save this season.
Cole's main weakness may be that he gets too fired up. His ERA in the first inning rose to 6.00 when Tommy Medica's two-out RBI single gave the Padres an early lead. It was the lone hiccup on a day he bolstered his case to earn a start in October if the Pirates make it that far.
And for once, he received a little help from an offense that finally found some traction after 27 fruitless innings. Pittsburgh scored just four runs and produced 11 hits through the first three games of the series before breaking out against Kennedy.
''It was a feel good for everybody today,'' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Making a spot start while leadoff hitter Starling Marte spent the day in the hospital helping his wife welcome their first child, Tabata scored on a fielder's-choice grounder by Andrew McCutchen to tie it in the first. Three innings later, Alvarez crushed a belt-high Kennedy pitch and sent it nearly to the concourse behind the seats in center for just his second home run in 22 games.
The homer sent a jolt through Pittsburgh's dugout. Tabata hit a two-run double with two outs, and Walker followed with a shot to right that climbed just over the top of the Clemente Wall for a 6-1 lead.
Cole worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fifth and completed his career day by striking out Nick Hundley swinging. The burly right-hander pumped his first in celebration as he walked off the mound. The Pirates hadn't won a game by more than two runs since knocking off Milwaukee 5-2 on Sept. 2.
''We're on a little bit of a skid there and we're fighting out there and we're playing decent ball and we're fighting and it was just nice to be able to give the team a chance to win and we were able to capitalize on it,'' Cole said.
NOTES: Hurdle said he hasn't set a rotation for the final week of the season. If the Pirates don't make any changes, ace Francisco Liriano would be available to pitch the opening game of the playoffs. Liriano (16-7, 2.29 ERA) will start Friday night against Cincinnati's Mat Latos (14-6, 3.14) ... San Diego begins a three-game series at home on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Robbie Erlin (2-3, 5.18 ERA) will face Edinson Volquez (9-11, 5.94).
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP